The State of Israel's former chief cleric, Chief Rabbi Israel Lau declared today (Hebrew):
"When we arrived here there was a people that had already been here for a long time."He argued that the Israeli government had the right to dismantle West Bank settlements and cede territory to the Palestinians.
Lau's statement is remarkable. Golda Meir famously denied the existence of a Palestinian people. Israel's right wing has echoed that statement to this day. No group more so than the Orthodox.
Lau is still not ready to share the State of Israel with non-Jews, but this statement on the West Bank opens the door for a broader conversation on the rights of non-Jews in Israel/Palestine.
As Israel's top cleric, Rabbi Lau was known for his ability to satisfy the warring camps within Orthodoxy: the militant, pro-settler Religious Zionists and the so-called ultra-Orthodox.
Rabbi Lau has navigated his successful career by anticipating and responding to the expectations of his constituency. His current position is Chief Rabbi of Israel's secular capital, Tel Aviv. This statement will be welcome to his Tel Aviv flock.
Lau's break with mainstream Orthodoxy has started a firestorm in the Orthodox press.