Allon's Legacy

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

It was fitting that Benny Begin, son of the late Likud-party prime minister Menachem Begin, should have been the cabinet minister representing Israel's government at the annual memorial service on Monday for Labor-party icon Yigal Allon. On the Zionist political spectrum, the Begins are stalwarts of the Right, whereas Allon was decidedly a man of the Left. Yet the inheritors of their respective legacies share a sense of clarity about Jewish rights in Israel, a desire for genuine accommodation with the Arabs, and an emphatic insistence on defensible borders.  

Allon was born in 1918 in the Lower Galilee and died 30 years ago. A leading figure in the Haganah—the pre-state self-defense underground operated by the left-wing Zionist establishment—he was a founder of its Palmah special-operations unit. The experience made him a lifelong proponent of preemptive military action.

During the 1948 War of Independence, Allon, by now a general, participated in many fateful campaigns, including the liberation of the Negev. Although he left the armed forces in 1950, he continued to be widely viewed as Israel's foremost strategic thinker. Allon never forgave David Ben-Gurion for not having ordered the IDF to capture the Old City and the West Bank during the war. The 1949 armistice lines, he said, failed to provide Israel with strategic depth.

After Israel's victory in the 1967 Six-Day war, Allon helped form a social-democratic movement that would evolve into today's Labor party. He supported settlement-building where militarily justified while opposing construction near Arab population centers. In 1968 he facilitated the Jewish return to Hebron on both security and religious-cultural grounds. At the same time, he warned that failure either to annex or to disengage from most of the Arab-populated territories would transform Israel into a colonial power.

Allon addressed Israel's topographic and demographic dilemmas in what became known as the Allon Plan. It proposed setting the country's border with Jordan at the Jordan River, fostering a belt of Israeli settlements in a 12-mile strip of land along the Jordan Valley rift, and handing over the rest of the West Bank with its Arab-population centers to Jordan. The plan was never adopted, but Allon's argument that the West Bank needed to be demilitarized, and that Israel ought to control access from the east, is today an essential plank in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's support for a two-state solution.

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