Einat Wilf

Einat Wilf is a leading intellectual and original thinker on matters of foreign policy, economics, education, and Israel and the Jewish people. Dr. Wilf was a member of the Israeli Parliament from 2010-2013 on behalf of the Labor and Independence parties. Dr. Wilf has a BA in Government and Fine Arts from Harvard University, an MBA from INSEAD in France, and a PhD in Political Science from the University of Cambridge. Born and raised in Israel, Dr. Wilf served as an Intelligence Officer in the Israel Defense Forces. Dr. Wilf’s past experience includes service as Chair of the Education, Sports and Culture Committee, Chair of the Knesset Sub-Committee for Israel and the Jewish People, and Member of the influential Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in the 18th Knesset. She served as the Baye Foundation Adjunct Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a Senior Fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute, Foreign Policy Advisor to Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres, and a strategic consultant with McKinsey & Company. Dr. Wilf is the author of four books that explore key issues in Israeli society: “My Israel, Our Generation”, about Israel’s younger generation; “Back to Basics: How to Save Israeli Education (at no additional cost)”;  and “It’s NOT the Electoral System, Stupid”.  Her fourth and most recent book, “Winning the War of Words”, compiles her key essays on Israel and Zionism.



If I were tsar of Israel, I would immediately delineate Israel’s final eastern border in the following way: I would annex 4% of the West Bank—the 4% that includes large settlement blocs adjacent to the Green Line that are home to 75% of settlers, including Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem (that is, not Ariel, Ofra, Bet El, nor Hebron). I would declare that this is Israel’s final eastern border and there are no territorial claims beyond it. I would acknowledge that we have a legal right and emotional historical connection to the area, but recognize that a competing collective has a similar claim, and I would renounce our territorial claim to that. East of that border, the military would stay as long as the Palestinians are at war with Zionism and the idea that the Jewish people have a legitimate right to self-determination in the land.

But, the key question is, whether at its core, the conflict is rational or existential. A rational conflict is about resources and their fair division. If our conflict is rational, then it emerges from the simple fact that two peoples live on one land, and therefore need to find a way to share it. A rational conflict should be amenable to rationally negotiated solutions, based on the principle of partition – dividing the land between two states, one for each of the two peoples, one Jewish, one Arab – as has been the governing theme of all negotiation efforts since 1937. Sooner or later, such a solution should bring peace and an end to the conflict. But increasingly, Israelis, myself among them, have come to wonder whether the essence of the conflict is quite different – not rational, but existential. Is the conflict about the very existence, rather than the size, of the State of Israel? If people are to be judged by their actions – as I believe they should – then over time, the existential thesis better explains why the Palestinian Arabs would prefer to have nothing rather than the dignity of their own state, if it means sharing the land with the state of the Jewish people. Most of the Western world continues to believe that the essence of the conflict is rational, and therefore doggedly pursues rational, negotiated solutions. But if the essence of the conflict is existential, peace would only be achieved the day the Arabs accept the deep logic of partition, which is that the Jewish people have an equal and legitimate right to a sovereign state in the only land in which they were ever sovereign.

This means that true peace has to be based on the deep, mutual acknowledgement that the Jewish people around the world and Palestinian people around the world are both indigenous to the Land of Israel/Palestine and therefore have an equal and legitimate right to settle and live anywhere in the Land of Israel/Palestine, but given the desire of both peoples to a sovereign state that would reflect their unique culture and history, they agree to share the land between a Jewish state, Israel, and an Arab state, Palestine, that would allow them each to enjoy dignity and sovereignty in their own national home. Neither Israel nor Palestine should be exclusively for the Jewish and Palestinian people respectively and both should accommodate minorities of the other people. The rest is details.



We basically have two peoples who claim a legal, emotional, and historical claim to the entirety of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea – we call it the Land of Israel, the Arabs now call it Palestine. Jews claim that they have a legitimate claim to all of it, as do the Palestinians. Both sides can make powerful arguments, including legal ones, in support of that claim. For me, the legal arguments fail to address the heart of the matter. Both people are in the land, both claim it all, and neither can have all of it if we are to end conflict. Both peoples need to settle for much less than what they believe is just, what is their due, what is right in their view, or what is legal in their interpretation.

Both sides need to renounce maximalist claims. Israel has already renounced its maximalist claims several times (in the 1947 partition plan, after 1967, in the 2000 Camp David negotiations, in the 2008 negotiation). Israel has made it clear that for true and final peace, it is willing to renounce maximalist claims. The Arabs have yet to do it and are holding fast to a maximalist claim with the right of return. From the Arab side, there has never been true willingness to accept partition of a Jewish and Arab state, with neither able to lay claim to the other.

The problem is that it is difficult to expose Palestinians as maximalists when we, by means of the settlements, seem to be maximalists as well. So if we want the world to start noticing that the main problem and obstacle is not settlements, but Arab maximalism, we need to end the Jewish maximalism. Not because stopping settlement building and renouncing territorial claims beyond the Green Line (with minor adjustments) will bring peace tomorrow, but because it would create the conditions that make peace possible. It helps mobilize Israeli society and world opinion on our side because we will constantly demonstrate our willingness to divide and share which will expose the Arab maximalism.

If my plan for delineating Israel’s final eastern border becomes accepted and implemented, I propose that the settlements beyond that border should not be forcefully removed. I think that all of the funding for them should be dried up and they should be treated like Israeli citizens abroad (which is what they will be). No money to kindergartens, schooling, infrastructure, etc. I believe that very quickly, most settlers would choose not to stay. In the distant future, when there is a Palestinian state, if there are Jews for whom it is more important to live in certain parts of the historical biblical Land of Israel than to live under the sovereign state of the Jewish people, they should have every right to live there as loyal law-abiding, tax-paying citizens of Palestine.



If I were tsar of Israel, I would immediately delineate Israel’s final eastern border in the following way: I would annex 4% of the West Bank—the 4% that includes large settlement blocs adjacent to the Green Line that are home to 75% of settlers, including Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem (that is, not Ariel, Ofra, Bet El, nor Hebron). I would declare that this is Israel’s final eastern border and there are no territorial claims beyond it. I would acknowledge that we have a legal right and emotional historical connection to the area, but recognize that a competing collective has a similar claim, and I would renounce our territorial claim to that. East of that border, the military would stay as long as the Palestinians are at war with Zionism and the idea that the Jewish people have a legitimate right to self-determination in the land.



There is no more transparent political lie than that of “the united city of Jerusalem.” This statement may reflect the desires of certain Jerusalemites (and of some who don’t bother to live there), but it certainly has no relation to the reality of life. The city was, and remains, divided. Had Israel opted to annex the part of Jerusalem that was under Jordanian occupation between 1949-1967, an area six square kilometers in size, we might have had a unified city today. But the colossal mistake of annexing dozens of villages of the West Bank to create the huge jurisdiction of the Jerusalem municipality as it is today, guaranteed that there would be no “unification” between Jerusalem as it was pre-1967 and these villages.

The desperate efforts to create a façade of unification meant that Jerusalem descended into poverty and neglect. Jerusalem went from being a magnet to a “welfare town” in need of ever-growing assistance just to keep the lie of its failed unification from being exposed. The city got bigger, poorer and uglier, and remained stubbornly divided. Jerusalem today is a symbol and metaphor for a nightmare future for Israel – one in which too much territory is annexed in the name of an ideological lie. Then, partly due to this annexation, the two groups that reject Zionism – the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs – become the majority, while the creative and productive Zionist forces flee to places where there is more openness and freedom, and less lying.

After having lived in the “united” city and seen its descent, it is obvious to me that the best thing that could happen to Jerusalem would be for it to be divided. That way, the city could direct its resources toward improving its economic situation and improving conditions for residents, rather than ongoing attempts to conceal the lie about its “united” existence. Despite all the construction and tunnels, Jerusalem remains essentially divided – and therefore, it could be re-divided into a Jewish city and Arab city. It is possible to recreate Jerusalem anew, with its beating heart in the places that are the glory of Hebrew creation and Zionist sovereignty: the Knesset, the Supreme Court, the Israel Museum, the new National Library, the Hebrew University.

The holy basin, or “insanity central,” really just needs to be managed in a way that secures access to all but it does not need to be owned exclusively by Israel. Generally, I like the Vatican idea—that one would specifically enter that area and it would be separate from both Israel and from what will one day be Palestine. I don’t care so much about the details; whatever specific arrangements are found I’m agnostic. The basic principle is a Jewish Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and an Arab Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, with the holy sites managed in a way to secure access to all who care about them. It should be noted that Israel is actually a good choice to be custodian of the holy basin. This is not because we are a really good people, but simply because we are really small. This means that the Jewish people are keenly aware that they cannot afford to antagonize the Christian and Muslim worlds. In this context, Jews should be able to pray on the Temple Mount, but only as part of an agreement with the Muslim world.



One of the greatest obstacles to peace, and certainly the least acknowledged, is the perpetuation of the Palestinian refugee problem and the inflation of its scale by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Whereas the actual number of Arabs who could still claim to be refugees as a result of the Arab-Israeli war of 1947-1949 is today no more than several tens of thousands (from the original 800,000), because UNRWA recognizes the descendants of refugees as refugees, the number of those registered as refugees is above 5 million, with millions more claiming to have that status.

Since the Second World War, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has been responsible for the welfare of all refugees in the world and has assisted in their resettlement and relocation. From that era, none of them are any longer refugees, except the Arabs from Palestine. By contrast, UNRWA, the organization created specifically to handle the Arab refugees from Palestine from the 1947-1949 Arab-Israel war, has collaborated with the Arab refusal to resettle the refugees in the areas where they reside, or to relocate them to third countries. Worse, the UNRWA has ensured that the refugee issue only grows larger by automatically registering descendants of the original refugees from the war as refugees themselves in perpetuity, while refusing to consider any solution for their status other than overrunning the sovereign state of Israel. For Palestinians, uniquely, “refugeeness” is a hereditary trait.

For several decades, the UNRWA has been engaging in an act of bureaucratic self-aggrandizement, inflating the numbers of those in its care and ensuring the growth of its budget. If the descendants of the Arab refugees from the Arab-Israeli war were treated like all other refugees, including the Jewish ones, they would not qualify for refugee status because almost all of them (upward of 80%) are either citizens of a third country, such as Jordan, or they live in the places where they were born and expect to have a future such as Gaza and the West Bank. The Palestinians born in the West Bank and Gaza are not fleeing war and are not seeking refuge. They are considered citizens of Palestine by the Palestinian Authority itself, just like all other Palestinians born in these territories. No other people in the world are registered as refugees while being citizens of another country or territory. Moreover, if the European Union has adopted the policy that Gaza and the West Bank are territories to be allocated to Palestine – and some EU countries already recognize Palestine as a state – then it makes no sense for it to argue that people who were born and are living in Palestine are refugees from… Palestine.

The remaining 20% of the descendants who are not Jordanian citizens nor citizens of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza and the West Bank, are inhabitants of Syria and Lebanon who are by law denied the right to citizenship granted to all other Syrians and Lebanese. Yet, UNRWA does nothing to fight for the right of these Lebanese and Syrian-born Arabs to citizenship, collaborating in their discrimination and the perpetuation of their refugee status.

Why does this matter for peace? Because if millions of Arabs who are citizens of Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, or inhabitants of Syria and Lebanon, claim to be refugees from what is today Israel, even though they were never born there and never lived there, and demand that as a result of this refugee status they be given the right to relocate to Israel (“the right of return”), then the whole basis for peace by means of two states for two people crumbles. If Israel with its 6 million Jews and more than 1.5 million Arabs has to absorb between 5 and 8 million Palestinians then the Jews will be relegated again to living as a minority among those who do not view them as equals; the only country in which the Jews are a majority and can exercise their right to self-determination would be no more.

Even more absurd is that UNRWA is funded by countries who support two states for two peoples. The United States, the EU, Canada, Japan and Australia fund nearly all of UNRWA’s annual budget of over $1 billion, whereas the 56 Islamic countries who supposedly grieve for their Palestinian brethren supply only a few million dollars.

If Western countries truly want to remove obstacles on the road to peace, they cannot condemn the growth of settlements on one hand and condone the manufactured growth of the number of refugees on the other. Either both the growth of settlements and the inflation in the number of refugees should be treated as obstacles to peace, or neither should be. Moreover, whereas Israel has demonstrated time and again that for peace with Egypt – and for much less than peace in Gaza and the northern West Bank – it will ruthlessly and effectively uproot settlements, the Palestinians have yet to demonstrate that they are willing to take even the smallest steps to give the refugee issue its true and proper proportions.

In Gaza, where there is no Israeli presence and which is clearly part of Palestine, the continued registration of Palestinians living in Palestine as refugees should be discontinued. In the West Bank, in the areas under Palestinian Authority control, the funds currently going to UNRWA should go to the Palestinian Authority for the provision of services, while the designation of the citizens of the Palestinian Authority as refugees should also be discontinued. Finally, outside the West Bank and Gaza, UNRWA’s work should be merged with that of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and operate on the same basis as all other refugees in the world, with efforts directed at securing the equal rights of the descendants in Lebanon and Syria, where they were born and have lived their entire lives.



Zionism is the liberation and self-determination movement of the Jewish people in their ancient homeland. It is as simple as that. The right of the Jewish people to have a country in their own homeland is a universal right, which is reserved for every people – the right to stand on their own authority and to control their fate. As long as the world is divided into some 200 countries on the basis of the principle of self-determination for peoples and nations, the Jewish people have this right. The Palestinian Arabs also have a right to self-determination in part of the country between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. However, their right does not supersede the Jews’ right, just as the Jews’ right in the country does not supersede that of the Arabs.

The deceptively seductive canard that “the Palestinians are the secondary victims of Europe’s crimes” is one of the worst lies, since to the untrained ear it sounds logical. In this tale, after World War II, when it became clear that the Final Solution was not final and the Jewish survivors could not be expected or welcomed to stay in Europe, the Europeans decided to “dump” the surviving Jews on unsuspecting Arabs who were living in an area that colonial Europe controlled. This convenient solution for Europe resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who have been homeless and occupied ever since. Ergo, the Palestinians are the secondary and still uncompensated victims of Europe’s crimes against the Jews.

Israel exists not because the Europeans dumped the surviving Jews in the colonially controlled Middle East. Israel exists because the Jews willed it into existence. The modern state of Israel exists because the Jews who created it believed themselves to be descendants of the Israelites and Judeans who were sovereign there in ancient times and paid a high price for preserving their separate existence as a people. The modern state of Israel exists because for centuries and millennia Jews kept yearning for Israel, ending the Passover Seder with the words, “next year in Jerusalem.”

To portray Israel as the outcome of the Holocaust is to engage in Zionism denial. It robs the Jews of their agency, their history, their historical connection to the Land of Israel and their yearning to return to it. It erases all that was dreamt, written, done and achieved by the Zionists before World War II. It turns Israel into a colonial project of guilty Europeans rather than a national liberation project of an indigenous people reclaiming their homeland. In remembering the Holocaust, Israel mourns not only all that was and still is lost, but Zionism’s greatest tragedy and failure.

In fact, if it were not for Arab resistance and Britain’s betrayal and submission to Arab pressures, the Holocaust as such might not have taken place. Jews would have been able to escape Europe to their ancient homeland in what was already a widely supported embryonic state. They would have had a destination country to which to immigrate freely at a time when Hitler was still willing to let the Jewish people go.

Israel came into being after World War II not “thanks” to the Holocaust, but thanks to Britain’s imperial dissolution. Just as India and Pakistan required no Holocaust to attain their independence and come into being, so too Israel. To think that only the act of absolute evil against the Jews could legitimate a state for the Jews is to deny the Jews what is taken for granted for all others. The Jewish people would have achieved their state sooner or later as part of the wave of liberation of peoples around the world. Their vision, determination, industry and willingness to fight for their state would have ensured it.

Israelis do not “revel” in the Holocaust as a source of legitimacy for their state. They mourn a vision of a state that could have been home to so many more. Zionism sought a state for the Jews not so that “never again.” Zionism sought a state for the Jews so that never at all.



The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement has many faces. Its success lies in its ability to address a wide range of positions regarding Israel and the Jews. Do you want to promote peace? Support BDS. Do you oppose the settlements enterprise? Support BDS. Are you interested in undermining the State of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people? Looking for a respectable way to express hatred for Jews? By all means, support BDS. Want to impress your friends? Well, you know what to do.

One of the reasons why the BDS movement appeals to people from all walks of life is the pride it takes in mounting a nonviolent campaign. Its captains will have you believe they are individuals who are on a par with Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela, and that the only conclusion one can draw from their nonviolent activities is that their cause is just. The two, however, are not necessarily connected: History is ridden with violent actions in the name of just causes, and nonviolent acts can be successfully taken in the name of violent causes.

Years ago, when I suggested to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Israel was facing a war based on words, ideas and images, and that it was a strategic threat, the veteran defense officials serving on the committee sent patronizing, albeit sympathetic, glances my way. To those who have earned their stripes on the battlefield and in the war on terror, the notion that Israel could be threatened by words was ludicrous, and worse, feminine. Certain ideologies must be introduced for militaries to mobilize against Israel, for acts of terrorism to target Israelis, and for countries to consider the use of weapons of mass destruction against it. 

People do not set out to commit atrocities knowingly—not unless they are psychopaths. They do so after they begin to believe that what they are doing is both just and justified. Moreover, the most horrendous atrocities in history were committed with deep conviction that they would serve the greatest cause of all—ridding the world of evil. 

This is how the BDS movement works: it fosters an ideology alleging Israel is the manifestation of pure evil, and the world would be a better place without it. It uses the “placard strategy,” meaning all those placards carried in its rallies, reading “Israel/Zionism equals…” None of these placards ever read “Zionism equals … a political movement representing the Jewish people’s right of self-determination in their historic homeland.” Instead, the sentence always ends with words that even some of Israel’s greatest supporters have been known to use, such as “racism,” “apartheid,” “colonialism,” “war crimes,” “ethnic cleansing,” “Nazism,” “child-killers,” and “genocide.”

Those using these words would have us believe they represent reality, but using such words has little to do with reality and everything to do with what they symbolize: evil. 

The “placard strategy,” which is not limited to protest rallies, is used by anti-Israel speakers across all spheres, creates a repetition of the message that “Israel/Zionism equals evil.” This may not be a violent method, but it encourages violence that is gradually realized. Those who come to believe there is evil in the world are bound to want to eradicate it, and when the time comes, they may believe the end justifies the means.

The “placard strategy” does more than just define “evil”— it defines its polar opposite, “good,” using a host of positive phrases, such as “justice,” “rights,” “freedom”, and “solidarity”.

Students in the US, many of them Jews, join a group called Students for Justice in Palestine. After all, what well-meaning person, let alone a young person who wishes to make the world right, does not want justice for Palestine? But the individuals behind this group believe the wrong that must be made right is the very inception of the State of Israel. For them, justice will only be served if and when Israel disappears. This is a violent goal whose essence — ethnic cleansing and genocide — is disguised by lofty words.

This is why international forums such as the UN General Assembly, the Orwellian-named UN Human Rights Council, and most recently FIFA, the international soccer federation, have become the arenas of choice for groups seeking to ban Israel from the global community.

These actions, often backed within these forums by an automatic majority, allow those preaching BDS to label Israel a “war criminal,” and breed a myriad of measures, including anti-Israel resolutions by the General Assembly and the UNHRC, biased draft resolutions at the Security Council, International Criminal Court appeals, and the formation of commissions of inquiry whose sole purpose is to expose the “evils” perpetrated by Israel.

International forums and commissions of inquiry serve the purposes of hiding the violent goals of the struggle against Israel behind lofty language advocating human rights and solidarity. 

The main reason international forums are used as the primary arena against Israel, however, is that they provide anti-Israel groups an opportunity to present their vision of an Israel-free world to all, which is the way they believe is should be. This is why those who truly want to fight for a peace based on the right of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples to self-determination in their homelands should be the ones leading the fight against the BDS movement.

If the world supports the notion that Zionism and Israel are the epitome of evil, then clearly the Palestinians cannot be expected to negotiate with it. After all, evil must be eradicated, not accepted in the name of peaceful coexistence. Moreover, if justice for the Palestinians justifies the ethnic cleansing of Jews, and if the vision of global redemption includes an Israel-free world, then surely the Palestinians cannot be expected to agree to a permanent resolution of the conflict that would include recognizing Israel’s right to exist as the Jewish homeland.

Peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians will be possible only when both parties realize the other side cannot be defeated, and therefore they must reluctantly compromise and accept each other’s independent existence. Those fostering the Palestinians’ illusion that Israel and its Jewish sovereignty can be defeated, if not through an Arab boycott and terrorism then by global isolation and public diplomacy onslaughts, only push peace further away.

The fight for peace is one of many facets and stages. At this time, the fight for peace requires fighting the BDS movement.



It really depends who says it. Broadly speaking, it is a problem when it’s said by outsiders who I know are saying it not because they care about what goes on here or really know what goes on here, but merely to use a word that is known to be evil in order to describe Israel and as part of the ongoing effort to deprive Israel of any sense of legitimacy. There is no question about Israel within the Green Line. Israel is a legal democracy with legal equality for all. There is inequality and discrimination that need to be taken care of but it is no different than majority and minority relations in other countries. Beyond the Green Line, Israel is an occupying power. Occupation is not necessarily illegal or illegitimate. It is a form of government sanctioned by international law when a country has control over a territory as a result of war which it does not intend to keep. It is a legitimate form of governance when you view your presence as temporary, which we are, unless you are a maximalist. We will remain there until the Arabs, and the Palestinians among them, lay down their arms and end the war.