In what is likely to be a heavily contentious meeting, the board of directors of Keren Kayemet LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) is set to vote on April 22 to establish policies regarding where in Judea and Samaria the organization will be able to purchase lands.
In advance, JNS, together with the World Confederation of United Zionists (CUZ) and its partners at the Tnuat Hamerkaz Haliberalit Hanoar Hatzioni, hosted a panel discussion that included four former Knesset members from across the political spectrum to discuss whether and where KKL should be purchasing land in this region. The panel was moderated by former Knesset member Dov Lipman, who serves as the secretary-general of CUZ.
David Yaari, chairman of the Confederation, said “nature should be a bridge-builder, not a barrier.”
He also said that “decisions of this magnitude within KKL should be conducted in a transparent manner and with full inclusion of global Jewry. Given that for 120 years, KKL has been the Jewish people’s financial arm for reclaiming land in Israel, this decision should not be made behind closed doors. Zionist leaders and donors should be consulted and engaged in public discourse about this question and other significant policies concerning their Jewish National Fund.”
As part of its centrist ideology, the confederation does not affiliate with any political party in Israel or any religious stream, confirmed Yaari. While its platform reflects support for the democratically elected government in Israel as the arbiter to establish policy governing life on behalf of Israeli citizens, Yaari noted that Israel’s government has yet to determine its policy on control of the land in Judea and Samaria, also referred to as the West Bank
Leor Sinai, a Conservative ordained rabbi who recently joined the leadership team of the confederation as vice president of strategic advancement, echoed this sentiment, saying, “The KKL dilemma is a perfect issue to highlight the value of general Zionism and to initiate a necessary and open conversation among global Jewry, the natural stakeholders of the Jewish National Fund.”
According to Nisan Cialik, chairman of Tnuat Hamerkaz Haliberalit Hanoar Hatzioni, “in addition to six kibbutzim and 24 moshavim, our movement has planted four large significant forests throughout the country together with the KKL-JNF. As a center-Zionist movement, we must be attentive to the desires, thoughts and perspectives of our partners in the Jewish Diaspora because they are essentially our ethical and practical partners.”
Core question? Determining what the mission really is
The panel reflected the multitude of positions governing the attitudes towards Judea and Samaria.
Former MK Nachman Shai of the Labor Party contended that while he is against using the term “occupied territory” for lands Israel took control over in the 1967 Six-Day War—a war of self-defense—and while he prefers to call the region “Judea and Samaria” because of its biblical significance, he does not believe that KKL should be engaged in this political issue.
“There is so much good that KKL can do with its funds in Israel proper,” he said. “Why should it get involved with a question which the democratically elected Israeli government has not made a determination about?”
Former MK Einat Wilf of the Labor and Independence parties explained that the term “occupied territory” is not negative and simply a legal term for a region in which there is military control.
She maintained that “Israel should not be building new settlements in a time when this only causes damage to Israel and that KKL should not be involved in doing so.”
Wilf added that “if KKL chooses to purchase land in the West Bank, they should only do so in the consensus areas of Gush Etzion and Ma’ale Adumim, which will definitely remain as part of Israel in any final agreement with the Palestinians,” and that any policy should be accompanied with a clearly delineated and demarcated map.
Former MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh from the Blue and White Party agreed that KKL should not currently be purchasing lands in this contested area, emphasizing that it should not be involved in such a political issue. She asked the core question of determining what its mission really is.
“If KKL’s mission is building up the Land of Israel, then from a legal perspective, KKL should be held to their core mission,” she posited.
In her view, this should not include KKL entangling itself in controversial purchases that could potentially cause problems both for Israel’s government and Israel’s image around the world.
Former MK Yehuda Glick of the Likud Party countered that “if KKL’s mission is building up the Land of Israel, then they should absolutely be involved in purchasing land in Judea and Samaria, which is the historical and traditional biblical heartland of Israel throughout Jewish history.”
He explained that if Arabs are regularly looking to sell land anyway, then it would be better for these purchases to be done via a structured and transparent organization like KKL, which could ensure that all was done legally.
Glick agreed that it would be best for these land purchases to be made contiguously and inside the major settlement blocs he believes most Israelis view as part of the Jewish state.