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  • From Hitnachalut to Hitnatkut The Impact of Gush Emunim and the Settlement Movement on Israeli Politics and Society
  • David Newman (bio)


The impact of Gush Emunim on Israeli society, thirty years after its establishment in 1974, can not be underestimated. The literature appertaining to the movement, its history, ideology, settlement activities, and political effectiveness, has been wide–ranging.1 While the movement as such ceased to exist in the 1980s, it gave birth to a large number of settlement, political, and ideological organizations which continue to implement the basic ideology laid out by the movements founders, focusing, above all else, on the Greater Land of Israel ideology and spearheaded through its West Bank and Gaza settlement policy. The impact of the settlement policy has been clearly evident in all attempts to draw the boundaries of a two state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict in the period since the Oslo Agreements in 1993 and 1995, while the political influence of its supporters as part of the governmental and institutional framework has been a major factor underlying Israeli governmental coalitions during the past twenty years.

And yet, somewhat paradoxically, the current move towards unilateral Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip, the evacuation of all Israeli settlements in this region, and the growing consensus within Israeli society that a two state solution to the conflict will eventually—sooner or later—become a reality, would suggest that the Gush Emunim ideology has failed to take root in the hearts of the Israeli public, over and beyond the specific adherents of the Greater Israel ideology. The fact that disengagement is being implemented by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who, in the past, was the settlers' major political ally and who, more than any other Israeli politician, helped create much of the settlement network and [End Page 192] infrastructure, has posed a great dilemma for the second- and third-generation Gush Emunim adherents and lobbyists. The fact that politicians of a right wing government now freely use the semantics of Palestinian statehood and "painful compromises" to be made for the sake of peace, would equally suggest that the impact of Gush Emunim has been less successful than is normally supposed.

Gush Emunim was established in 1974, some months after the end of the Yom Kippur War. Its major impact on Israeli society was its dual role as the practical spearhead of the West Bank settlement movement on the one hand, and as the ideological mouthpiece for the philosophy of a Greater Israel on the other. As a formal organization, Gush Emunim ceased to exist in the 1980s, but as an ideological umbrella for the West Bank settler movement and its many associated and affiliated organizations—both governmental and non-governmental—it has provided the underlying raison d'être for the right wing non-withdrawal positions throughout the thirty years since the inception of the movement.

This article does not seek to regurgitate the political history of Gush Emunim and the settlement movement. This has been covered in much of the previous literature, which has focused on the movement's ideology, social contextualization, modes of political activity, and extremist behavior.2 It does seek, however, to revisit Gush Emunim and the various sub movements and organizations that it has spawned during the thirty years since its inception, and to examine its impact on Israeli society as a whole. In particular, the article seeks to readdress the nature of the settler movement as a whole against the backdrop of the Gaza disengagement plan—the hitnatkut (disengagement)—which, for many analysts, would indicate a failure of the settlement ideologists in attaining their ultimate objectives, namely the retention of physical control over the whole of the Greater Land of Israel. It readdresses the effectiveness of the dual mode of political behavior previously described as constituting a combination of "fundamentalism and pragmatism," the ability to maintain an extra-parliamentary protest posture on the one hand while, at one and the same time, attaining legitimacy through cooptation as part of the political and institutional framework of the State and Government, with access to public sector resources as a means of advancing their political and ideological objectives.

This article further examines the...


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pp. 192-224
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