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Israel Adrift — Jerusalem or Judea?

The Israeli Right needs a peace plan that begins with a united Jerusalem, shared by Jews and Palestinians

When Prime Minister Netanyahu accepted the idea of a two-state solution, he signaled to the American political establishment that nothing had changed. At the very moment that Netanyahu officially embraced the Oslo process, he abandoned his past vision (Jordan as the solution) and became wedded to an eventual Israeli withdrawal from large parts of Judea and Jerusalem. Now, after six long years of playing the Obama administration along, the Prime Minister’s time appears to have run out. Netanyahu is being asked by the American Liberal establishment to either deliver or face the consequences. And while Israel seems to be strategically adrift, President Obama and his Palestinian counterpart, Abu Mazen, appear in sync. Both men have backed Bibi into a corner and isolated him, and they seem ready to checkmate the current Israeli government in the face of world opinion at the United Nations.

Unless Netanyahu has a “get-out-of-jail free” card from either Russia or China, the prospect of an assured American veto over UN recognition of a Palestinian state is now seriously in doubt. East Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement issue have trumped all else, as the US has tilted dramatically away from Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister. The great irony, of course, is that Netanyahu has failed to deliver on his own Oslo promises that no one in his right-wing camp believes in. For such a successful Israeli politician and PM, how did Netanyahu manage to get himself in such a fix?

The answer lies in the lack of an Israeli right-wing peace plan that could be embraced by large elements of that same American establishment who consider Oslo to be the “only game in town.” Remember, for the lack of an alternative, it was the Republican Party who first signed on to the idea of a West Bank Palestinian state. It was President George W. Bush and his Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, who formally endorsed the concept and attempted to negotiate a settlement of the conflict during the premiership of Ehud Olmert. In the years before Bibi became PM, when he sat on the Likud list back bench, he didn’t believe in the West Bank state idea at all. When he wrote his highly acclaimed book, “A Place Among The Nations”, he asserted bravely that there can be no solution to the Palestinian question without a Jordanian component. This was true then, and it is true today. However, sometime in the ensuing years the Prime Minister changed his mind (or had it changed for him) by the pressure of high office and the inertia of his American colleagues.

Peace is not conquest. But for the Palestinians (Hamas and Fatah) and the Israeli Right, conquest has triumphed, even in the face of over twenty years of so-called peace negotiations. Conquest, from a Palestinian perspective, means a totality of sovereignty in the vast majority of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. This is the very basis of Arafat’s strategy of “stages”. On the issue of the strategic Jordan River Valley, the Palestinians are adamant: Palestine must control its own border with Jordan within a matter of three short years. On the other hand, for the Israeli Right, conquest means complete control of Jerusalem and a majority of Judea and Samaria. This would leave the Palestinians with a kind of a mere autonomy in their own communities. But while both sides have miscalculated badly and attempted to hide their true aims of conquest (through either “stages” or mere autonomy), the dubious language of their false “diplomacy” had to fail sooner or later. It now seems as if the Israeli Right is the big loser.

Oslo, as perceived in Washington, means a demilitarized West Bank Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem. This is also the position of the Israeli Labor Party. Both the settlements and the housing projects in East Jerusalem are deemed illegitimate by the Obama administration. This American tilt does have a concrete logic to it (excuse the pun). How can Netanyahu really believe in the Oslo process (“the only game in town”), and build on “Palestinian territory” at the same time? For most of the American establishment, he can’t. So while the true aims of Fatah (conquest in “stages”) remain hidden in a distant future, the true aims of the Israeli Right are out in the open. They can be seen and touched. For Prime Minister Netanyahu and the entire Israeli Right, what is needed is a new narrative that makes sense (given the dramatic events all around Israel’s borders) and a peace plan to go with it.

The answer lies deep within the very religious concept of Jerusalem. If the City of David is truly to become the City of Peace (David is portrayed in the Koran as a Caliph), then it must be shared and unified. For peace (as opposed to a mere truce) to reign within this primary religious context, both religions must be satisfied that the true will of the Almighty is being done. Jerusalem must be kept whole, and its sovereignty shared and not divided. Division will be the curse of Jerusalem and should be opposed at all costs.

But for the Jews to share Jerusalem, their holiest site, would be the very equivalent of the Muslims sharing Mecca. What could the Muslim world possibly offer as a religious trade-off for the Jews’ loss? The answer is an equally shared Judea and Samaria. For a theological peace to reign — in a united Israeli-Palestinian capital in Jerusalem — all the holy territory of the West Bank-Judea-Samaria must be shared. Religious Jews will never give up the whole of Jerusalem in order for it to become the divided capital of a West Bank state (especially a state dedicated to a mere truce). Religious Jews reject this kind of political peace. It can be described as an expendable piece of paper to be torn up before the next round of war crashes thousands of missiles against Israel’s coastal populations centers. Jews are not fools. Millions know that the Palestinian strategy of conquest through “stages” is real. It has never been abrogated. They know because this is the only kind of language that the Muslim World has ever offered to its own people, the language of conquest. Our American partners might have forgotten who were the aggressors in 1948 and 1967 — but the Jewish people have not forgotten.

But a true religious peace, a theological peace whereby both religions and their adherents can feel divinely blessed — that would be the very essence of peace. Jerusalem will never be shared without equal treatment for all the holy sites of the Kingdom of David. Where politics has failed, and continues to fail — let the borders of David’s Caliphate decide the fate of Jewish Israel and Muslim Palestine. Yes, the Israeli Right is adrift for a lack of vision and narrative. But that doesn’t mean that the Jewish people have been abandoned by the Holy Creator. We still have our faith and our choices to make. But only our righteous and correct choices will see us through. If we choose all of Jerusalem, then we can’t have all of Judea. Conquest is theologically impossible without offering a just alternative. And from a political point of view, the Right’s desire for total conquest is the very reason for Israel’s isolation. But if we choose justly and demand equal treatment from the Muslim world, a proper trade-off might be accomplished with the help of G-d.

If Jerusalem is to be the capital of two nations living in peace, then Israel must have its equal rights in Judea. It is now up to the Israeli Right as to how it hopes to meet the challenge of global diplomatic pressure. Under Prime Minister Netanyahu, Israel is adrift. The time of decision, in order to change the present course, is at hand. With the Israeli Right in a kind of permanent political ascendancy (due to an accurate sense of a real Palestinian desire for conquest), another Oslo negotiation will achieve nothing. Yet, Washington and nearly all international forces demand an end to the stalemate. Only a religious narrative of peace can save the moribund peace process. But nothing on earth can force Israel to agree to a “peace treaty” based on illusion.

In the Muslim Middle East, religion is not illusion; it is like gold. Political dynamics, on the other hand, usually end in a fool’s tragedy. Let the Muslim world be forced to choose: either a compromise over the entire Caliphate of David, with Jerusalem as their united/shared capital, or an unending struggle leading to more destruction. PLO politics as usual — probably leading to a final war for all the disputed territory — can only turn a destroyed region into a greater inferno. But the slow strangulation of Palestinian rights through slow-motion, right-wing conquest is not justice either. Let the Torah, Talmud, Koran and Hadiths be our guides. Two religions of peace, or two religions at war — this is our choice. To live or to die, let G-d’s Will be our will.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).