Secretary of State John Kerry has pared back his nine-month comprehensive agenda for a more nebulous framework agreement. It has now become apparent to the secretary that a general understanding of basic principles between secular Palestinians and Israelis is a more achievable goal than a final end-of-conflict peace treaty. The problem is that Mr. Kerry represents a nation which has long ago settled the problem of religion in political affairs. Like most secular politicians, Kerry believes that there are rational answers to nearly all political problems. For Kerry, the trick is to merely find the correct logical combination and voila tout, problem solved. Even though twenty years have passed since the signing of the Oslo Accords, the so-called two-state solution is still viewed by adherents to this secular paradigm as the only possible answer.
However, in the Middle East religion has long held the central role in the civic life of the vast Muslim majority. Hence, the role of religion is crucial for any just and comprehensive peace to be established. Without this essential religious pillar as a framework of understanding between Jews and Muslims (Israel and the Palestinians), a final comprehensive deal becomes impossible. This is the basic law of Middle East peacemaking, only a theological framework can work. Not until Hamas and the followers of Rav Kook sit and deliberate will peace be achieved. Secular Zionism offers no common language which can bridge the religious divide which is fundamental to the hundred-year conflict.
Rav Kook gave Zionism its only religious context. After all is said and done, Zionism was a revolt against religion. Orthodoxy was an anathema to the Jewish nationalist movement. But according to the rabbinical teaching, only the Messiah could re-establish Jewish sovereignty in the ancient homeland. Yet Rav Kook understood that history itself is G-d’s answer to rabbinical teaching. 5708 (1948) was an historical fact. No amount of rabbinical denial could alter the reality that the soldiers of Israel (and not the Messiah) had forged the third commonwealth of the Jewish people. Fact are facts.
Kook’s great theological achievement was to bridge Zionism with the Jewish concept of redemption. It had to be done because there was no other explanation for Israel’s success other than the official materialist view of history being offered up by the victorious left-wing Zionist parties. For Kook, Israel was a part of G-d’s plan for redemption. The role of the Messiah would be left for history. However, Israel and its creation were not strictly a human fabrication (as secular Zionism contends) but a partnership between the Jewish people and the Divine plan. G-d had placed the Jewish future in the middle of the Arab-Islamic world and G-d had provided the tools for physical victory. According to Kook, G-d also had a redemptive plan and history was its unfolding. It is the task of us humans to decipher G-d’s true intentions and choose the correct path.
For the last sixty-five years, the Muslim agenda and the religious Zionist agenda have been in conflict. Muslims felt it their religious duty to annihilate Israel (most still do). On the other hand, religious Zionists interpreted the Jewish state’s survival as the Divine green-light for the conquest of Judea, Samaria and the entirety of Jerusalem (most still do). But can this winner-take-all attitude be G-d’s true intention? History would seem to be saying the negative. For Sunni Arab Muslims, at least, Israel has earned an important place in a regional balance of military power. Perhaps Turks feel the same way. But balance of power is not a theological concept. For peace to flourish throughout history, Muslims will need to look to the Koran for Divine guidance. Here they will find Allah’s true message on Israel (Sura 5-21).
For religious Zionists, the dawning historical fact has become the necessity for a theological peace between Islam and Judaism. For without such an historical fact as the true theological peace, the Divine plan for redemption cannot and will not be built. Redemption and conquest appear to fail the test of universality at the core of prophetic Jewish Messianic thinking. War is definitely a permanent condition in an atheist, materialist world. But Judaism holds to a different historical outcome. Peace belongs on the Jewish religious right as much as it belongs to the Koran and Islamic political parties. The question for religious Zionists is twofold: How has the ownership of the Holy Land (the Covenant of Abraham) been interpreted in the past, and how must it now be reinterpreted in the face of the rebirth of modern Israel?
Could over two thousand years of rabbinical teaching be proven wrong? The rebirth of modern Israel proves precisely that it can. So other deeply pressing questions must now be asked. Does ownership of the Holy Land reside solely with the Jewish people? What, in fact, are the geographical contours of the Holy Land? Is there a theological dialogue ripe for exploration between Islam and Judaism? Will it take another more devastating war to understand G-d’s plan and Israel’s place in the region? Or could the corollary be true: Now is the moment for a broad theological peace leading to a regional understanding that will avoid a devastating war and/or nuclear confrontation. Could we all be in the middle of a Divine test?
In order for there to be peace in the Middle East between Sunni Islamic Arabs and the Jewish state, a theological framework must be established. History demands reconciliation. Abrahamic religious belief insists on historical redemption. Only the two religions, Islam and Judaism, can achieve the breakthrough. For Muslims, Allah will be the author of salaam. For Jews, G-d will point the way to a future filled with life and shalom. Politics will have its place as history, but the Middle East demands the centrality of the Divine. European and North American secular politicians cannot dictate peace between Muslims and Jews. The global colonial era is over. The Jewish people are at home in the Middle East. Most importantly for Rav Kook’s thesis, the second phase of Israel’s modern redemptive history must begin. Without peace there can never be true devotion. This too is the core of the Islamic message.
The theological framework for peace will end the anti-Islamic Palestinian holy war against the Jewish state. The Palestinians are representatives of something much, much larger than themselves. They are Islam’s chosen people for Jerusalem’s glory. Until they recognize this all-important fact, no progress can be made. The same is true for the religious Zionists. Israel’s roof is peace. Peace in the Holy Land will prove that sustainable world peace and development is not only possible, it is to be expected. Throughout Jewish history, redemption has always been right around the corner. The rebirth of Israel is not an exception. On the contrary, as Rav Kook might say, it is a confirmation.
For two thousand years, we Jews have prayed for this moment. But to live in the land of our patriarchs and matriarchs is not enough. We want to live in that land with our brothers in the presence of the Divine. Permanent war is not a Jewish value. We pray for peace, true peace, not a piece of paper. Ironically, Jewish destiny and Islamic destiny (Abraham’s destiny) are now co-dependent. With a nuclear sword hanging over all our heads, this year will end in either a horrific war or a dialogue that astounds the world. Islam and Judaism must prove the secular materialist vision wrong. Only peace can accomplish that mission. G-d help us choose wisely. For the Divine is our partner and awaits a human answer. Our hearts are like an open book that G-d reads second by second. The real truth is known through our thoughts and actions. The Divine cannot be fooled. For Hebron and Jerusalem are our mutual inheritance. Let the theological framework be known. Let G-d’s Will be done.