Ever since the Six Day War, the security of the State of Israel has been sacrosanct to both liberal and conservatives in the United States. The special union these two nations shared was formed out of a common political bond based on shared principles related to democracy and human rights, and also mutual interests in the wider Middle East.
Glenn Beck’s appearance in the Holy Land, however, has brought into focus the evolution of American conservative thought on Israel, and the move into the mainstream of Christian Zionism.
Indeed, the coming race for the Republican nomination will be dominated by top-tier candidates who mix religion and politics when it comes to Israel. Michele Bachmann spent a summer working on a kibbutz in the mid-1970s, as part of a group of Christian volunteers. Rick Perry told the Jerusalem Post in 2009, “I’m a big believer that this country was given to the people of Israel a long time ago, by God, and that’s ordained”.
Were Bachmann, or more likely Perry, to ever become President of the United States, the implications of Christian Zionist philosophy are clear in terms of the wider Arab-Israeli conflict. With God having granted the Jews the deeds to the entirety of the Land of Israel, the solution to the conflict is a single-state solution, one which would result in a second Exodus of Palestinians across the Jordan.
“There’s no such place as the West Bank,” Beck told listeners earlier this month. “Never ever call it the West Bank. It’s Judea and Samaria”. Beck novel solution to the housing crisis was to increase the rate of settlement construction in the Territories: “Let’s just develop in Judea and Samaria”.
Perhaps not surprisingly, some Israelis are uncomfortable with this new breed of religious advocate. After all, one of the principle tenets of Christian Zionism is the idea that the gathering of Jews in Israel is essential for the onset of the Second Coming. Their support for Israel, thus, is motivated by a perverse desire to see its very destruction.
Not only that, but Beck and his allies have made a succession of questionable statements that could be seen as anti-Semitic. Beck has accused the philanthropist George Soros not only of helping the Nazis steal Jewish property as a teenager in occupied Hungary, but of leading an international one-world government conspiracy. John Hagee, pastor and speaker at Beck’s show in Caesarea, once remarked that Hitler was a ‘hunter’ sent by god “to get the Jewish people to come back to Israel”.
On the other hand, given that some in Israel are entertaining Beck, there clearly exists a strand of thought which suggests that, as the State becomes more isolated, any Friends are welcome, whatever their past or future intent.
“In Israel there is more courage in one small square mile than there is in the whole of Europe”, Beck proclaimed in Jerusalem in Wednesday. True courage would be to turn these zealots away. As Beck himself said, he has nothing to teach the Jewish people.
Bibi goes to Washington: What he said and what it means
Here follows a glance at Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech which he delivered in a joint session of Congress earlier today. Suffice to say, his statements garnered much appreciation from the attendees, and at times he appeared to own the room, even going so far as to lean jauntily on the podium as if he were at a roast for Joe Biden, brushing off a heckler with casual ease. His address offered a number of statements on peace and the Palestinian state, which are worth a closer look.
“And you have to understand this: In Judea and Samaria, the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers. …This is the land of our forefathers, the land of Israel, to which Abraham brought the idea of one God, where David set out to confront Goliath, and where Isaiah saw a vision of eternal peace.”
Netanyahu’s use of the term “Judea and Samaria” is telling: above all, this reference to the Hebraic terminology for the West Bank and his overtures to the ties between religion and land are to be read as reassurances to certain members of his coalition. Parties like Shas, and other religiously-orthodox parties who do not believe in the two-state solution, are essential to Netanyahu to keep him in power and his rightist coalition together.
“I stood before my people — and I told you it wasn’t easy for me. I stood before my people, and I said, “I will accept a Palestinian state.” It’s time for President Abbas to stand before his people and say, “I will accept a Jewish state.””
One of two instances whereby Netanyahu defined the preconditions for fresh talks, it signifies a further shifting of the goalposts. Previously, it had always been required of the Palestinians to accept Israel’s right to exist. This was achieved in 1993, when as an addendum to the Oslo Accords, Yasser Arafat wrote to Yitzhak Rabin in a letter: “The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security”. Now, Netanyahu demands (again, as an act of appeasement) that the PA recognises the right to exist as a Jewish state. This had not been required prior to his premiership.
“The vast majority of Israelis who live beyond the 1967 lines reside in neighbourhoods and suburbs of Jerusalem and greater Tel Aviv. Under any realistic peace agreement these areas, as well as other places of critical strategic and national importance, will be incorporated into the final borders of Israel.”
This is a poorly-veiled code for the desire to see annexed into the State of Israel, once the borders are defined, the major Israeli settlements in the West Bank that lie close to the 1967 borders. For ‘suburbs of Jerusalem’, read Ma’ale Adumim in particular, and places like Har Homa and Gilo. ‘Greater Tel Aviv’ likely refers to Ariel and the towns in the northern-central area. In terms of ‘places of critical strategic importance’, this refers probably to the Seam Zone, the area in between the Green Line and the Security Barrier, which Israel asserts is key to the security of the State. This would involve the incorporation of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc near Bethlehem.
“In any real peace agreement, in any peace agreement that ends the conflict, some settlements will end up beyond Israel’s borders.”
The central West Bank is dotted with smaller settlements that would be given up in any peace agreement. This statement perhaps refers to those who reside around the major Palestinian localities, in particular Hebron where violence has flared up in the past and there is clear delineation between Jewish and Arab areas of the city. Any final agreement would have to deal with some security arrangement for these settlers.
“Palestinians from around the world should have a right to immigrate, if they so choose, to a Palestinian state. And here’s what this means: It means that the Palestinian refugee problem will be resolved outside the borders of Israel.”
The right of return was referenced repeatedly throughout the speech, making it clear that Palestinian would not have the ability to return to the old villages of the Mandate. This was the position of President Clinton set down in his Parameters, which allowed for Israel to pay restitution to some refugees and assist in finding residence for them in the new Palestinian state.
“Jerusalem must never again be divided. Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel.”
Previous sketches of agreements have allowed for a rump East Jerusalem in Palestinian control, but this has been the position of every Likud Prime Minister since Menachem Begin, who made this very same point in a speech to the Knesset during negotiations of the Camp David Accords. And, it is the position of the city’s mayor today.
Netanyahu later stated that: “I know this is a difficult issue for Palestinians, but I believe that with creativity and with goodwill, a solution can be found”. Thus, Netanyahu wills a united Jerusalem, but would be prepared to allow for limited Palestinian sovereignty or self-governance in predominately-Arab areas of the city they call Al-Quds.
“It’s absolutely vital, that a Palestinian state be fully demilitarized. And it’s absolutely vital that Israel maintain a long-term military presence along the Jordan River.”
The desire for a demilitarised state echoes the position President Obama took in his address on the matter last week. In terms of the Jordanian border, this has been something Netanyahu has sort for a long time, however it would if implemented severely undermine the sovereignty of any Palestinian state if the Israelis were to control access of all land borders. One suggested compromise has been for a neutral force (the UN, the EU) to patrol the Israel-Palestine-Jordan border.
“I say to President Abbas, “Tear up your pact with Hamas, sit down and negotiate, make peace with the Jewish state. And if you do, I promise you this: Israel will not be the last country to welcome a Palestinian state as the new member of the United Nations. It will be the first to do so.””
The second precondition, and a further change in the Israeli position. Prior, Israel had always said that it could not negotiate with the PA, because it did not represent the will of the Palestinian people. Following the Fatah-Hamas reunion, Netanyahu is now saying we cannot speak with you, precisely because of this pact with Hamas. Abbas has sought to reassure Israel and the United States that the current negotiating team will remain and will not alter to involve Hamas. This may not be enough. Hamas would have to alter its charter radically first, as the PLO did in 1988 before negotiations can begin in earnest.
Israel, 63, and at a crossroads
“Everything was forever, until it was no more.” - - Alexei Yurchak
Israel, on its sixty-third birthday, can boast to having a privileged position in the Near East as a young, dynamic and powerful state. Its economy grew 3.4pc last year, continuing to lead the world in agriculture and solar technologies, computer-aided design and manufacture and medical electronics. Quality of life and universal access to healthcare mean that life expectancy is higher and infant mortality lower in what is technically still a warzone than in parts of Western Europe.
Culturally, David Grossman’s latest novel To the End of the Land was received with critical acclaim and nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Jerusalem Prize was awarded to Ian McEwan, who attended the ceremony to both praise and chide Israel, in the presence of the President and the Mayor of the city. In these respects, then, the state of the nation is strong.
At once, the State of Israel is facing international isolation, brought on by the obstinacy and recklessness of the bullish Netanyahu administration. The last elections in February 2009 lead to the formation of a coalition filled with nationalist and religiously-Orthodox parties, including Shas, The Jewish Home, Yisrael Beiteinu and United Torah Judaism. This cabinet of bigots and chavinists has stalled the peace process and failed to slow down the rate of housing construction on the West Bank.
Meanwhile, after years of corrupt incompetence, the Palestinian Authority has got itself together. In September, it is set to declare statehood at the United Nations, to be recognised by all members (bar Israel and maybe the United States). Furthermore, Hamas and Fatah have begun reconciliation, thus removing one the main obstructions to a workable concord. Now more than ever, it is essential that Friends of Israel push and pressure the government into negotiating for a just peace before the figurative stroke of midnight.
Unfortunately, those allied to the State of Israel have, to speak in general terms, split into two camps. On the one hand, there exists a broad but diminishing group – in which I include myself – that support the idea of Israel: as a state for a previously stateless and oft-persecuted people; as a pluralist democracy in a region dominated by despots; and as a dynamic capitalist economy that continues to lift people out of poverty.
As such, most of this side of house – the left, radical centre, liberal Zionists and European centre-right – continues to critique the Israeli government so that its policies may embody its core values and aid the State in living up to its full potential. The mainstream of the American right, by contrast, does not criticise the Knesset, but is gradually moving in that direction. George W. Bush, for instance, was the first sitting President to use the term ‘Palestinian state’ and recognise the two-state solution has the goal of peace talks.
Obstructing progress is an alliance of far-right hawks, messianic Christians and religious Zionists, who continue to endorse the notion of an Eretz Yisrael, which includes the annexation of Judea and Samaria, as it is told so in a literal interpretation of scripture. They continue to give their backing to and actively encourage the conquest and colonisation of the West Bank by settlers, since they share a belief in a common doomsday scenario and hope that, by building away the Palestinian state, they can bring on the apocalypse and the end of all things.
This cabal of wing-nuts and fruit-loops are not friends but rather enablers: the sort of creepy, shady ‘creatures of the night’ who hang around outside convenience stores and offer to buy 11-year-old kids beer. They are beastly sadists, sticking the needle into the punctured, withered arm of a clapped-out, breathless heroin addict. In seeking to fashion out a state in the biblical image, which runs from the Mediterranean to the Jordan, they are in fact encouraging the death and destruction of the very thing they profess to worship.
Israel, on its sixty-third birthday, is at a crossroads. The status quo with regard to the West Bank is untenable; there exists three options. First, if they annex the West Bank and grant all those who reside there Israeli citizenship, then the very purpose of building a Jewish state will be lost. Second, if they annex the West Bank and refuse citizenship to the Palestinians, then Israel’s democratic values are annulled as the Arabs become a hermit race in an apartheid state.
The only viable option therefore – one which will secure the future of a Jewish and democratic state – is for Israel to negotiate a peace with the Palestinian Authority that creates two states for two peoples in one land, which cooperate and coexist side by side in a condition resembling peace.
This is something that a plurality of Israelis want and brave and courageous organisations like Peace Now continue to pressure the government for. I shall continue to support the State of Israel by hoping and campaigning for the two-state solution, not because it is easy but because it is right. Israel – in its most good and virtuous guise – is something worth fighting for. It is something more people should fight for.
Were we to select the simple option, and watch on apathetically as religious zealots and psychotics overrun Ben-Gurion’s desert bloom and turn it into a theocracy, then the world would lose something priceless and irreplaceable. Down the road, there would come a day when we would arise from our collective slumber to recognise that all we’d loved and adored about Israel had been vanquished, and worse, that we didn’t even appreciate it when we had it.
Read my lips: no new settlements
“And I will set thy bounds from the Red sea even unto the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert unto the river: for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand; and thou shalt drive them out before thee.” - - Exodus 24:31.
“If Israel does not continue the settlement freeze, the peace process will be a waste of time.” - - Mahmoud Abbas.
Yet the moratorium is due to lapse, and construction has resumed in earnest. Cement began to pour into the scarred earth shortly before the deadline passed, in spite of limp calls on the part of the Prime Minister to ‘show restraint’. The future of the peace process – one that looks as promising as any undertaken since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin - now hangs in the balance.
Alarmingly, such a pattern of behaviour is not unique to this particular round of talks. President Carter had hoped to agree a pause in settlement construction on the West Bank during negotiations for the landmark Camp David Accords. Contemporaneous Foreign Office memoranda reveal however that Prime Minister Menachem Begin informed his Likud Party that, just weeks after the agreement of the concord, Israel was to begin immediately “a programme of expansion and consolidation of existing settlements in the West Bank”, including an “additional 500 families” settled at Ariel.
Carter sent private messages to Begin that hit the Israelis “very very hard indeed”, and which were in the words of Zbigniew Brzezinski “very very clear”. But Moshe Dayan insisted that “the decision to build additional houses in the settlements was not contrary to the Camp David Agreement”, and as is evident by the sizeable estates which dot the hills west of the Jordan today, construction restarted and still persists.
I have been to Israel, and I have seen the Promised Land. The Jewish people have, in the space of sixty years, managed to construct for themselves the most remarkable and dynamic state, which has embraced not only the free market but liberal and open democratic values. Yet religious extremism, now in governance with Yisrael Beitenu and Shas members of the ruling coalition, blights Israel’s credibility on the international stage as a pluralistic and humanitarian state.
If Israel is to live up to the ideals it seeks to embody, then it can no longer continue with the erection of tenements on the West Bank, this gross injustice toward the Palestinian people. The construction of settlements, on land that the ultra-Orthodox deem part of Eretz Yisrael, is part of a silly, superstitious and ultimately apocalyptically dangerous plot to bring on the Messiah and marginalise or better yet rid the Holy Lands of infidelic influences. Religion is poisoning everything.
The amoral policy also makes the chances of peace in the region all the more slimmer. The Palestinian people require a state, but as settlers colonise more territory recognised to be theirs, dividing and reapportioning the land becomes more and more difficult. The boundaries between the State of Israel and the future Arab state, already blurred and muddled by the Security Barrier, are rendered intangible by settlements built deep into Judea and Samaria.
A recent and noble campaign by Israeli actors, who refused to play in a newly-built state theatre in Ariel on the West Bank, offers hope, that there are in fact dissenting voices within the State brave enough to speak out against the rising tide of Orthodox influence in government. Israeli novelists Amos Oz and David Grossman have risen in solidarity, alongside American artists such as Julianne Moore and Stephen Sondheim.
For the sake of peace as a Friend I too appeal, that the moratorium must hold, and this policy must cease. Read my lips, Mr. Netanyahu: no new settlements on Palestinian land.