Bible Commentator


Rabbi Moshe Reiss

Israeli/Palestinian conflict

The Gaza Disengagement: The Death of a Dream; the Birth of a Dream

"Coveting the same land, like coveting the same woman, creates a complex relationship. You can't help feeling close to someone who is attracted to the same things you are. Loving the same woman means that you have something in common deep down inside. On the one hand you feel close to this man, on the other you yearn for his destruction. Whatever the case this bond created between you and him cannot be denied." (Eyel Megged, Translated by Dror Zeevi, Guardian, Jan. 6, 2005.)

The world seems obsessed with the ‘occupied territories’ in Palestine. The number of civilian deaths in Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, Chechna, Algeria and Cambodia far outweigh the number of civilian deaths in the Israel – Palestine conflict. Other ‘occupied territories’ exist in Tibet and Lebanon (whoops  Lebanon has become unoccupied after 30 years) with little world concern. Why is the ‘Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir’, overwhelmingly Muslim, not called ‘occupied’? India and Pakistan have publicly noted nuclear capabilities. The neighborhood of Pakistan with its ‘Islamic bomb’ includes Afghanistan, Iran, China, India and Bangladesh. These countries comprise 40% of the world’s population. Pakistan is full of Jihadist insurgents and borders on being a ‘failed state’. Shortly after September 11 terrorists suicide bombed the Indian Parliament almost creating a state of war. Everyone considered the almost certainty that they came from Pakistan. Several Pakistanis including Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan and his proliferation network have already sold nuclear secrets and components to troublesome characters and states for which we garnered tens of millions of dollars. (After Khan’s criminal activity became evident President Pervez Musharraf denied any Pakistani government involvement, refused to allow international agencies the right to investigate and pardoned the ‘hero of Pakistan’ of any potential crime.) There have been several wars between these two very populace states. America has now agreed to sell Pakistan the world’s best fighter planes the F-16 as a reward. Is this conflict not more alarming to the world than the conflict between Israel and Palestine?

There is a plan in fact several plans to solve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict; even a ‘Roadmap’.

The short term objective of one plan is clear: separation. Unfortunately this is not the ‘separation out of respect’ stated by Yitzhak Rabin shortly before his death. It is a separation demanded by the realty of suicide bombing.

The medium term plan will in all probability include the freezing of many of the settlements which will eventually be returned to the Palestinian state. Those that will remain in Israeli hands will be expanded. The Israeli government must and will control the settlement expansionists. The medium term objective could include the return of other land and the closing of other settlements.

It is within the long term plan where the ‘final status’ issues will be resolved – including the future status of Jerusalem and the ‘right of return’. That is a long time in the future, probably a decade or two before the negotiations can begin.

The first step in the short term and what can also be considered the beginning of Phase I of the Roadmap is the Disengagement from Gaza and four northern West Bank settlements.

The Israel disengagement from Gaza provides an opportunity and a danger. The opportunity for the Palestinians is the ability to rule themselves in Gaza without Israeli interference or control. The danger lies if chaos ensues and terrorism into Israel continues.

For the Israeli’s the disengagement will establish an important precedent for similar steps on the West Bank. It will manifest the will of an Israeli majority over a determined minority of the settlers and their nationalistic supporters. It will consolidate the centrist coalition government that Sharon has formed with the Labor Party. Sharon himself may be reluctant to move beyond the Gaza disengagement. If chaos and anarchy fill the vacuum left by Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and terrorism on Israeli cities and towns ensue this will reinforce Israeli skepticism and provide political backing for Sharon’s strategy of a long term solution that leaves Israel in control of most of the West Bank.

The disengagement plan will be implemented but not without great internal dissent. Some of those Gaza settlers may agree and may accept the compensation package that has been offered. But at least some of these people ‘chose’ to raise their children in a space that endangered these children’s lives. A significant number of people who support the settlers literally believe God gave then this land. And thus despite the danger God would protect His people. Unfortunately despite God’s protection too many of these children had been killed and others maimed. Their dream of a Greater Israel (a nightmare to many Israeli’s and all Palestinians) will end. The disengagement plan will be implemented. The Army and Police can and will accomplish this eviction, but not without danger. Several Israeli newspapers have written of the Prime Minister being referred to as a ‘traitor’ and his life being in danger as a result of a possible assassination attempt by an Israeli zealot. According to the Shin Bet (Israel’s Secret Service) a statement has been issued that ‘Yigal Amir lives [the assassinator of Rabin], Rabin is dead, Sharon will die’.  

Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun heads a Jewish Religious Seminary in a religious settlement. In the Six-Day War he was a paratrooper and helped liberate the Old City of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. Not long after that, Bin Nun was one of the first to cross the Green Line and settle Gush Etzion, which is the largest settlement in occupied Palestine. He is known as moderate and has met with the Israeli left.

The Rabbi recently stated that "The disengagement plan is a scandal. It is insane. The absolutely certain result will be the burial of the prospect for peace. From the point of view of anyone who wants peace and believes in peace, this plan is suicide. . . It will persuade the Palestinian street that every concession to Israel is stupidity, idiocy and folly. Thus, it will thwart every chance of reaching peace in this generation. As Oslo shattered the dream of Greater Israel, the disengagement will shatter the dream of peace. That is its true meaning."

Another moderate is Rabbi Menacham Fruman, the Rabbi of the settlement of Tekoa who has for the past 30 years been saying that it is necessary to shatter the regular parameters of Israeli political thought. “Thirty-five years ago, when leftist writer Amos Oz brought one of the thinkers of the PLO to see me, the man asked me what a settler is. And what the difference is between a settler and an Israeli who is not a settler. I thought for a moment and then I told him that settlers are people who prefer the connection to the land over the connection to the state.”  He was met twice with Yassar Arafat and with Sheik Yassin, the assassinated spiritual leader of Hamas.

Fruman has recently stated “I suggest that to those in Gush Katif who are so inclined to remain where they are under Palestinian rule.  . . . I personally am ready to move to Gush Katif and to take advantage of the relations I have forged over 20 years with the Palestinian leadership, including some of those who remain relevant today, so that the settlements will become a bridge to peace. [I believe in] not the dawn of redemption, but the dawn of peace." (Bin Nun has made the same suggestion.) The problem with this suggestion is what happens if any single terrorist bombs any of these people? What will the government of Israel feel forced to do?

These same Rabbis and their associates have created new prayers for the Settlements and the settles. In their opinion God is in addition to the creator of the world a politician. For the national-religious community, this withdrawal is a theological disaster; it is an implosion of their mental universe.

What will the day after be like? There is a high likelihood of Jewish blood being shed by Israeli policeman and the armed forces. Suppose that after several thousand settlers have left or been forcibly removed a 100 or several hundred fanatic settlers open fire on IDF soldiers or fanatic young settler mothers use their babies as human shields to defy the troops. What choice would the army forces have but to storm them.

The status quo will change and the results can not be  foreseen. Will Abbas or a new Palestinian government create security in Gaza or will terrorism recur.  In 2006 a new Israeli government will be elected. Whatever does happen will determine the future of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

A few weeks ago, Yitzhak Amargi, a resident of Ganei Tal in the Gush Katif bloc of settlements in the Gaza Strip, woke up in a sweat from a nightmare. In his dream, Amargi, who is 60, was standing in the center of a vast area that had been leveled by a military bulldozer, unable to find a trace of the house where he has been living for the past three decades. In another part of the dream he saw himself looking for the grave of his daughter-in-law, Ahuva Amargi, his son Reuven's wife, who was murdered three years ago on the Kissufim road, but again he could find no sign of the grave or of other graves that were adjacent to it.
"I scream and cry," Amargi recalls the vivid nightmare, "but there is no sign or trace of graves, homes or life - all was wasteland, emptiness, destruction, Holocaust."

In the morning, Amargi told his wife, Sarah, about the dream, and without intending to, said, "I dreamed the homes and graves had been destroyed by the `enemy.'" Immediately, he relates, "I understood that I had said something terrible about my country." But within a few days, after reflecting on it, Amargi internalized the substance of the dream and today is already determined enough to say that "from my point of view we are talking about an enemy, who is perpetrating an enemy act against me and expelling me and my friends from our homes. If, heaven forbid, the expulsion is actually carried out, I will cease to consider myself a citizen of the state. I will stop voting, stop volunteering, and certainly I will not be able to say good things about it."

Miriam and Yehuda Gross were born 83 years ago. They met in Auschwitz.
Yehuda said, "I'm against comparisons, but put yourself in my place. In '44, when I was already in the labor camp, they took my parents. They told them to put a few things in the cart and took them to Auschwitz. When I think about the car that will stand outside here and they'll put our things in it, I'm automatically reminded of what was then. I don't want to think about that, it's automatic. Then they uprooted me from home and now they're uprooting me from home."

And what of the actual nightmare for the people of Gaza who have suffered death and the destruction of their homes during recent intifada. What are they and there children’s dreams like?

Olive groves live for hundred of years and more than anything else represent the tradition of the Middle East. High Priests and Kings are anointed by their oil thousands of years ago and today Popes and Kings continue to be so anointed. Thomas Friedman wrote a book entitled ‘The  Lexus and the Olive Tree’ for that very reason. In the Talmud after stating that olive tree is more important than other fruit trees Rabbi Hanina tell us of his son’s death before his time as a result of his cutting down a fig tree  (B.T. Baba Kamma 91b).

Some 500 olive trees on dozens of dunams of land had been hacked limbless over a weekend and on Sunday the Palestinian farmers unanimously pointed an accusatory finger at their neighbors on the hilltop: the ‘hilltop youth’ of Yitzhar. It looked as if a lumberjack had run amok in the olive groves of the Palestinian village of Ein Abus, just south of Nablus.

This is the latest installment of an annual struggle between the fringes of the settlement movement and Palestinian olive harvesters across the West Bank. The IDF proudly stated that, as opposed to last year, it has managed to limit settler vandalism of Palestinian olive groves to only two or three incidents.

But that was not enough for Fauzi Hussein. Settlers from the unauthorized outpost of Yitzhar – dismantled in July but since repopulated – swooped down from their hilltop perch and hacked apart 255 of his olive trees, he says. The villagers only dare approach the hilltops near the settlements when accompanied by human rights groups and an IDF escort.

"I staked everything I had in those trees," pleaded Hussein, who had worked in Tel Aviv's tourist hot spot of Kikar Atarim for 23 years before the onset of the intifada. Hopping down from one of the mountain's ragged terraces to talk to a reporter, the 53-year-old Hussein said he had supported his entire family by his olive harvest, the bulk of which he sold to Saudi Arabia.

His neighbor Abdula Yusuf is too afraid to climb the rocky terraces beyond his village and see the damage for himself. "They'll kill me," he said, waving a hand at the container homes on the top of a neighbouring hill. "If they can do that thing to trees as old as the Roman times, they will not hesitate to do it to me."

He stopped the car by a pile of uprooted olive trees and got out, indicating that I should do the same: 'Such trees are 150 years old - three times the age of the State of Israel,' he said, pulling out a clod of earth from the roots and crumbling it in his hands. 'Generation after generation our people have come three times a year to dress, fertilize and harvest these trees. All our life, all our traditions, are connected to such trees. But now they bring their powerful machines from the USA and destroy our inheritance in fifteen minutes. Like us, these trees have deep roots. Look how strongly these roots bond the trees to the soil! But now they are uprooted, and with or without Abu-Zeid, if the settlers get their way we will be next. Sooner or later they will expel us all. It is only a matter of time.'

(I am not making ethical equivalences about death and destruction.)  

The author lives in Israel and associates with Palestinians. In a recent inter-religious dialogue with young Palestinians from Nablus (where most Israelis believe only terrorists live), meeting in Jerusalem it took the author 30 minutes to reach the meeting facility – 20 miles distance; it took the Palestinians eight hours – a 40 mile distance due to numerous checkpoints. They were willing to talk to Jewish Israelis, especially one who knew the Koran. They said we should all go back to Europe were we came from. When informed that half the Jewish Israelis came from Arab countries where their lives and properties were endangered, they stated they did not know that but of course it did not change their position.

These young people, willing to talk to Israelis are not committed to the two state solution. Even if a peace agreement was negotiated returning to the Palestinians the entire occupied West Bank to the 1967 borders, and Gaza they were not willing to give up the 77% of the original Palestine which is the State of Israel. They want me to go back to America where I was born. But what of the 70% of the Israeli population born here; where are they to go? The State of Israel was founded because for a great many Jews there was and still is nowhere else to go. It will be a long time until the Palestinian residents of Nablus can drive to visit family in Hebron without passing through Israeli checkpoints. That is a necessary step for these Palestinian and Israeli residents to consider conflict resolution through negotiation as a way to solve their mutual problems.

Can I ever understand the reality of these young Nablus resident’s whose narrative remembers and commemorates the ‘Nakba’ (the Palestinian day of catastrophe recognizing their lost war – called by Israeli’s the War of Israeli Independence)? Can they ever understand my reality, born the week of Hitler’s invasion of Poland, my father’s birthplace? Is it good for us as human beings to make history so personal? Both two narratives are valid and can never be resolved.

A Arab Jew understanding the Palestinian people stated as a paraphrase to Psalm 137:6
"I shall never forget thee, Palestine,
I swear to you with my right hand
that at once I am a Palestinian.
All of a sudden I know:
I am an Arab refugee and, if not,
let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth”.

TWO TEMPLES: Jerusalem and Ayadhya (India):
Several weeks ago 10,000 Jews tried to assault the Temple Mount perhaps to destroy the Mosque. This reminded the author of the destruction of a Mosque by Hindu nationalists in Avadhva (India).  
The Temple in Jerusalem:
Israeli politicians continually refer to Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal unified capital. Jerusalem has two parts, western and eastern. Western Jerusalem has an overwhelming Jewish population and Eastern Jerusalem primarily an Arab population. Eastern Jerusalem was captured by the Israelis in the 1967 war. Eastern Jerusalem with half of the cities residents includes 77 square kilometers versus 45 for western Jerusalem. There are 230,000 Arabs, one third of every resident. Eastern Jerusalem Arabs have Israeli ID cards, can vote in municipal elections (although they have primarily boycotted the elections) but are not Israeli citizens. There was been almost no terrorism from the eastern Jerusalem Arabs.

On April 10, 2005 10,000 nationalist Jews attempted to go up to the Temple Mount but were stopped by the 3,000 Israeli riot Police. Jewish religious authorities state that going to the Temple Mount is forbidden until the Temple is built, presumably by the Messiah.

Ateret Cohanim (the Priestly Crown) is an organization that studies and prepares Priests (Cohanim) for Temple practices and rituals including Sacrifices. Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, a right wing leader heads the organization and it’s Seminary. They have a pre-military program for youngsters. They have and continue to purchase properties in the Muslim quarter and other properties that surround the Temple Mount.

Shocharey HaMikdash, a organization associated with Ateret Cohanim  have recently renewed the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was the supreme religious, judicial, and political Jewish institution in the Land of Israel from the days of the Temple.  It ceased to operate in the fifth century.
According to these groups it is necessary to reestablish the Sanhedrin because the state is betraying its mission and is forsaking national land in favor of the enemy. They are against the security wall because they seek ‘ethnic cleansing’ called in Israel ‘transfer’.

Their objective is to destroy the Mosque on the Temple Mount and rebuild the Jewish Temple. Since Jews pray three times a day for a rebuilt temple these groups say why not build it now. They are funded primarily by rich American Jews.

According to some calculations the second Temple was completed in March 515 BCE. In ten years will be the 2,500 anniversary and by then according to some of these messianics a new Temple must be built, completed and operational. Some evangelical Christians support these groups believing that when the Temple is rebuilt Jesus will return.

There are a group called the "hilltop youth" from “illegal outposts” (settlements built after Prime Minister Sharon committed to stop building settlements in May 2003) centered around the village  of Yitzhar (a few kilometers south of Nablus). They are preparing themselves for the final battle over Greater Israel. There already have been violent conflicts between the Israeli armed forces and these youths. Rabbi David Dudkevitch of Yitzhar despite opposing violence asked “Is there a serious Rabbi who condones transgressing the Torah [disengagement] for the sake of cooperation [with the government]?”  Will the most determined members of this group be ready to sacrifice themselves to stop the disengagement of Gaza? Will they try to fire anti-tank rockets at the Temple Mount's mosques, shoot and throw hand grenades at Muslim worshipers and even become suicide bombers.  Dr. Ami Pedahzur, a senior lecturer in political science at the University of Haifa believes this a real possibility (‘The Israeli Defending Democracy’); much of Israel's security services agree.

Yassar Arafat has claimed that there never was a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. We “have not found a single stone proving that the Temple of Solomon was there because historically the Temple was not in Palestine." This despite the Koran stating the Mohammad went to the ‘farthest mosque’ and traveled from there to heaven. There was no Mosque on the Temple Mount; Islam had not yet conquered Jerusalem.  All Islamic commentators until the last twenty years have stated that Mohammad went to Jerusalem and the Mosque referred to was the place of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.

The overwhelming majority of Jewish Israelis – whatever their politics or religious outlook, and including the majority of law-abiding opponents of disengagement – utterly reject the tactics of these ultra-nationalists. However the Israeli ultra nationalists have relatives in the rebel wing of the Likud party and other right wing parties.
Dr. Uzi Landau (Ph.D. Massachusetts Institute of Technology) is the rebel leader of the Likud Party (the largest political party in Israel) the coalition party whose leader is Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister. Landau was a Major and a Paratroopist in the Israel Defense Forces. He has been Minister of Public Security. He plans to run in the primary of the Likud against Sharon later on this year or early next year. Led by Landau 27 of the 40 members of the Likud Parliamentary party voted for a referendum whose purpose was to postpone and defeat the Gaza Disengagement plan. Thirteen of his rebel party voted against the Gaza Disengagement plan.

The conflict is clear – is Israel to be a secular state or a Jewish nationalist primarily Orthodox state?

The Temple in Ayadhya, India:
On the evening of Jan. 30, 1948, five months after India’s independence from Britain Mohandas Ghandi was assassinated. Ghandi considered the creation of   Pakistan as a separate homeland for the Muslims a personal failure. Religious strife began almost immediately. Eight million Muslim Indians moved to Pakistan and one million died in the religious conflict. His assassin who did not try to escape - Nathuram Godse, a member of the RSS  - stated that Ghandi was ‘constantly and consistently pandering to the Muslims’. The RSS was called by Ghandi a body with “a communal body with a totalitarian outlook.” Godse was executed singing a hymn to the “living Motherland, the land of the Hindus”. The RSS is the Hindu nationalist organization; Godse was a Brahmin, a member of the highest class in the Hindu religion.

The founder of the RSS was Keshav Baliram Hedgewar and was composed of religious rightists who were opposed to non-violence.  For them the meaning of ‘National Unity’ meant a country to be called Hindustan. Their definition of Social Justice was to retain the caste system. For them democracy meant ‘in any democratic country only the majority has rights, the minority will have only the rights which the majority bestows upon them at its pleasure’.

The leader for 33 years (1940-1973) Madhav Sadshiv Golwalker stated the ‘Hindus could profit from the example of the Nazi’s who had manifested racial pride at its highest by purging Germany of its Jews. Jews were guests but Muslims and Christians were invaders. The foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold the  Hindu religion in reverence and glory the Hindu race and culture, or must stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges”. (Pankaj Mishra, NYT, Feb. 2, 2003)

In 1964 the VHP was founded as a political-religious offshoot of the RSS to expand its constituency. They included (as opposed to the RSS) the Untouchables, Sikhs, and Buddhists into their ranks, but not Muslims and Christians. Members of the VHP stage huge processions to intimidate other minority groups. They affirm ‘Hindu Values’. They are attempting to create an all encompassing ethno-national ‘Religion’.

In 1980 the BJP was formed as a pure political party as an offshoot of the VHP. The movement brings together fundamentalists, traditionalists, anti-modernists, and right-wing conservatives who believe in anti-liberalism, a repugnance to the left, a commitment to a distinctive and exclusivist variant of nationalism. They have a relentless antipathy to Muslims, and to a lesser extent, to Christians and to the secular-minded who desire equal rights for all citizens of India.

In 1998 the BJP and its leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee won the most seats in the Parliament (although a minority) and he became Prime Minister.  Vajpayee while he openly criticized the assassination of Ghandi by a nationalist he continually speaks of Hindu culture and India as a Hindu nation. The Congress Party – the party of Ghandi and of his political successor Nehru are a Secular Party.  

The conflict is clear – is India to be a secular state or Hindu state?

India is a land of contrasts, dilemmas and paradoxes. It is a modern country embracing Globalization and high tech industries, and expanding consumer goods and shopping malls.

Within the Hindu culture of the RSS there is an obsession with a mythical medieval temple in the town of Ayadhya in the province of Uttar Pradesh.

On September 25, 1990 the deputy leader of the BJP and Deputy Prime Minister - L. K. Advani – took a pilgrimage by an air ‘chariot’ to Babri – a journey of 10,000 kilometers and 35 days. (Does this remind one of another similar journey by a political person later to become Prime Minister to the Temple Mount which began the second intifada? If one ever has the opportunity to listen or read speeches by India national political spokesmen and the Israeli governments political spokesmen one could believe they write each others speeches.) Advani was stopped by the police shortly before completing his pilgramage.

Two years later the Mosque was destroyed brick by brick by 200,000 Hindus nationalists. Hindu nationalists have proclaimed their desire to destroy ‘thousands’ of Mosques built on the remains of Hindu Temples during Mughal rule.

Hindus claim the Lord Ram was born there millenniums ago and a previous Temple devoted to him was destroyed in 1528 by Muslims. In retaliation Indian Muslims attacked the Bombay Stock Exchange, Air India Building and the Shiv Sena Headquarters in March 1993 killing 257 people and Muslims destroyed Hindu and Jain Temples in Pakistan.  A shrine of worship of course, cannot be shared, anymore than Jerusalem can be shared by Jews, Christians and Muslims.  

According to Vidya Subahamanian, an Indian journalist, the VHP has a plan for the Temple (Asia Times, June 11, 2003). “Step one: the VHP threatens to set a date for the construction of the Temple coinciding with a crucial election. Step two: the BJP remain non-committal to begin with. Step three: the VHP, undeterred and now backed by the RSS, talks of a plan of action. Step four: the BJP – party as opposed to government – lends cautious support to the cause. Step five: the VHP-RSS combine to announce a series of meetings to be conducted on the disputed site. Step six: a BJP spokesperson (preferably its sole and doubtless very lonely Muslim in this role) pronounces these ceremonies legal. Step seven: pilgrims descend on Ayodhya. Step eight: the assemblage assumes the dimensions of a law and order problem. Step nine: Constituents protest but nonetheless express confidence in the secular credentials of prime minister”.
After the first four steps have been achieved Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee promised to have the Temple rebuilt (February 2004). At the election held in January 2005 the BJP lost to the congress Party created by Ghandi.
Could both of these problems have been avoided?

What would have happened if Ghandi’s proposal of not creating the state of Pakistan and his policy of non-violence had been adopted?
What would have happened if the Arab world had accepted the U.N. partition plan in 1947?

Let us try to rewrite history and say the Arabs had adopted the U.N. partition plan. (We realize that speculation about a different future is, rewriting history is extraordinary difficult. It is impossible to conceive what would happened if instead of the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century seeing a Cross in the sky he had seen a Star of David? Or what if Charles Martel had lost the Battle of Tours in 732 and the Muslims had conquered Europe?)

Two States would have been established in 1948, Israel and Palestine.
Jerusalem would have become an International city with religious rights for Jews, Christians and Muslims. Israel would have continued its immigration policies allowing all Jews who wished to come, including those from the Arab countries and eventually from the former Soviet Union.  As a result of the support from the American Jews and the United States Israel would have grown into a developed country with high tech engineering. Israel would have continued to develop as a military power within the Middle East.

One alternative is that Palestinian government would have become some form of autocracy, since no Arab country had a democracy with little advance standard of living.  At some point Palestine (with Arab support) would have attacked Israel as an ‘infidel’ state and be defeated as it was in each war. The vast majority of Palestinians would have fled or been expelled and there would be a Greater Israel State, with very few Arabs within its borders. There would be no Palestine; there would be only Jordan (which some believe is Sharon’s plan for Palestinians). Gaza might have remained in Egyptian hands. The Arabs would have attacked again and been defeated again. Israel would have become an almost impregnable military state. For the religious nationalist noted above this would have been considered a Messianic and redemptive state.

Alternatively Palestine would have recognized that Israel has developed economically more than any other Arab country because among other reasons it was a democratic regime. Palestine would have adopted some form of a democratic government. This would have taken time, perhaps a decade or two. The influence of a democratic Palestine on the other Arab regimes in the long run would have been profound. First Jordan, then Lebanon, then Syria and eventually Egypt might all have become democracies in different forms. (Saudi Arabia with its Wahhabi religious ideology might not fallen down the slippery slope of democracy.) Jordan might be a Constitutional Monarchy, Lebanon and Syria Parliamentary  governments and Egypt a presidential system of government.

There would be no Palestinian refugee problem, no need for the United Nation’s resolutions and perhaps no need for the three U.N. reports of Arab developmental deficiencies, perhaps no Osama bin Laden, perhaps no War against Terrorism and perhaps no anti-Semitism in Europe.

It appears like a peaceful eschatological ending; a Heaven on Earth.

June 28 Labour primary

Despite the common interest by both the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority in common interests this conflict has continued for such a long time because on both sides there are intractable people. On the Israeli side some believe the land belongs to Jewish people because God promised it to them. Others believe that the Palestinians do not and never will agree to peace. On the Palestinian side some believe the land belongs to Arab people because God promised it to them. Some believe Israel is a surrogate for the Imperialist West. The prospects for peace are not good.

The short term objective, the separation includes the security/separation fence – which indeed ought to be built closer to the ‘green line’ than it is planned at present, and will as a result of the Israeli Supreme Court. The security fence is a perfectly rational response to suicide bombing; it has protected lives and lives, whether Israeli or Palestinians, are far more important that land especially when the land is not intended as a final border. One can even argue that the security fence by reducing suicide bombing will facilitate an eventual agreement.

The disengagement plan will be implemented but not without great internal dissent. Some of those Gaza settlers may agree and may accept the compensation that will be offered. But many of these people ‘chose’ to raise their children in a space that endangered these children’s lives. (Apparently putting your children into such danger is not a crime in Israel, although it is in some democratic countries.) A significant number of people who support the settlers (as noted above) literally believe God gave then this land. And thus despite the danger God would protect His people. (Unfortunately despite God’s protection too many of these children had been killed and others maimed.) There dream of a Greater Israel (a nightmare to many Israeli’s and all Palestinians) will end. The disengagement plan will be implemented. The Army and Police can and will accomplish this eviction. 

A hudna (cease fire) is being negotiated by Abbas with the Jihadists and he is about to consolidate the twelve Palestinian security organizations. Municipal elections are currently taking place and a legislative election is scheduled for July of this year. After the Hudna, the disengagement, the Palestinian legislative and municipal elections and the Israeli troops withdrawing from the large West Bank cities, all taking place during the first eight months of 2005, the future will partly depend on the level of success of the Palestinian Authorities governing of the Gaza and the Palestinian cities in the West Bank. The ‘hunda’ is not an independent act; it is part of a package of actions to create political participation and power sharing.

Can the Hudna be stabilized; on February 25, a suicide bombing occurred in Tel Aviv with the Islamic Jihad taking responsibility? Can the Palestinian leadership be stabilized; conflict have already broken out between Abbas as President and Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei have already broken out and between the leadership and Marwan Barghouti, the leader of the young Turks. What will be the reactions of the Israeli’s and Palestinians leadership when Hamas(the better flank of Hamas is its Islamic group but there is a nationalistic group – those who run the social services), the Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Brigade fly their flags over former Jewish settlements? Will terrorism be reinvigorated in a replication of the Lebanese withdrawal (and the September 11 celebrations)? Will Israeli’s feel as some did after the Lebanese withdrawal that the terrorists had been rewarded?

If the suicide bombings resume the next Israeli government will almost certainly be more right wing than the current one and the medium term plan may have to be postponed for another several years. Israelis well remember that the Labor party and Shimon Peres lost an election he was poised to win (after the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin) to the right wing Likud and Benjamin Netanyahu as the result of the 1996 suicide bombers. That will happen again unless the Palestinian Authority can control the suicide bombers. What if Hizbollah plans and arranges for the suicide bombing? Does that mean that the Jihadists can control the destiny of Israelis and Palestinians? Yes, just as they brought about a change in the democratic government in Spain.

In all probability the medium term plan would include the freezing many of the settlements which will eventually be returned to the Palestinian state. Those that will remain in Israeli hands will likely be expanded. The Israeli government must and will control the settlement expansionists. The medium term objective could include the return of other land and the closing of other settlements. The timing of these is partly dependent on the success of the Palestinian Authority, and partly dependent on the Israeli electorate. An election must be held before the end of 2006. Can some of these land returns be accomplished prior to this election? Possibly, but these events cannot be predicted at present.

It is within the long term plan where the ‘final status’ issues will be resolved – including the future status of Jerusalem and the ‘right of return’. That is a long time in the future, probably a decade or two before the negotiations can begin. It is no longer a question of developing a plan.

Regardless of whether it will be the Geneva plan or the Nusseibeh-Ayalon plan or the Taba plan (or even the Saudi Plan presented in Beirut) which is adapted in the long term, no solution can be implemented until both the Israeli and Palestinian people improve the trust between them. It will take a long time for either side to agree to manage a   resolution to this conflict. (The only Palestinian leader who has stated ‘Listen, we've got to be realistic. You're not going home, because the homes don't exist anymore’ is Sari Nusseibeh.) At a March 17, meeting in Cairo an agreement was made between Fatah (headed by Abbas), Hamas and Islamic Jihad on continuing the hudna to the end of this year. The Islamist prefer the word ‘tahdiah’, meaning unilateral; ‘hudna’ implies bilateral. The prologue to the six point agreement stated ‘It is the right of the Palestinian people to end the occupation and establish a Palestinian state with full sovereignty, with Jerusalem as its capital, and to ensure the right of Palestinians to return to their homes and property’. The agreement conditions include ‘the release of all security prisoners, a withdrawal from the Palestinian cities, and a cessation of military activities’. The condition on ‘all security prisoners’ will not be met by Israel.

President Bush declared in April 2004 when he approved the disengagement plan that the right of return was a nonstarter and that the large settlement blocs near Jerusalem would remain in the hands of Israel. While the Palestinians have not accepted either of these the chances of these lands being returned  by Israel are non-existent.

The current government policy of separation is a short term solution; it will however aggravate the economies of Gaza and the West Bank. How are the 1.5 million people of Gaza Strip (49% of this population is under 14 years of age) and the West Bank population of 2 million (44% of this population is under 14 years of age) going to survive? (The actual population of Gaza and the West Bank are not based on census data and are controversial. The West Bank population estimates vary from 1.4 – 2.3 million and the Gaza population between 1.1 – 1.5 million.) How will this young generation (too young even to vote) react to the Abbas reforms and the reconciliation (if he achieves that) with the Islamists/Jihadists? Almost 60% of Palestinians live in poverty. Every knows that American Jews have supported Israel since its founding, now over 55 years ago. Do Arabs support the Palestinians? Do they have the resources? “People of Arab descent living in the United States are doing far better than the average American. That is the surprising conclusion drawn from data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2000” and released March 2004. (Moises Naim, Foreign Policy May-June 2005.) This also tells us it is not Arab genes, but Arab opportunity that is lacking. Maybe if Europe dealt with its immigrants as does America they would fewer immigrant problems.

As a result of exposure to internet and television the Palestinians are well aware of how the rest of the world lives.  After the industrialized world pays for the reconstruction of Afghanistan and Iraq – still being destroyed by occupation forces and guerrilla insurgents  - and more recently the tsunami in Asia will they pay the tens of billions of dollars necessary for the reconstruction of Gaza and the West Bank cities? Will Europe contribute the funds unless actual reform is implemented?

Young people are the pool of suicide bombers – young people have not seen life and therefore do not understand death. Wisdom like wine requires ‘aging’.

It is only the Gaza Strip that the Israeli’s have proposed to disengage from (aside from four very small settlements in the northern West Bank). The West Bank will remain occupied. The West Bank cities and the Gaza are characterized by different problems. As journalist Nicholas Jubber writes, ‘the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are divided by their unequal economies, distinct dialects, and cultural animosities forged by their pre-1967 experiences under separate regimes - Nasser's Egypt and King Hussein's Jordan.’  Socially, West Bankers see themselves as the upper echelon of Palestinian society; they are educated and had financial independence. However as a result of the intifada both groups now live in poverty.

Can a contiguous state including Gaza Strip and the West Bank ever be created without cutting Israel in two. Will there be a western Palestinian state and an eastern Palestinian state, separated by the State of Israel. Is this any more likely a long term solution than East and West Pakistan which ended with a civil war and now are the separate countries of Pakistan and Bangladesh?

How will the soon to be unoccupied people of Gaza relate to those in the West Bank still occupied by Israel even after the Israeli troops leave the larger cities? Will reform – economic, security, health, education - in Gaza automatically apply to the West Bank cities; how will this be done? Gaza will be a contiguous state; the West Bank cites will not be.  How will the population of the Gaza strip including the terrorist Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and al Aqsa Brigade react towards Egyptian armed security forces protecting their mutual border? And after the evacuation by the Israel troops how will the West Bank terrorists react towards the Jordanian security armed forces protecting their border? How will the large Palestinian refugee population in Jordan (and Lebanon) react to the coordination and reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority?

Mahmoud Abbas and the ‘older generation’ have won the Presidential election (as a result of the younger generation’s Marwan Barghouti choosing not to run and the Hamas boycott). Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza will have an extraordinary effect on governing a population with a density one of the highest in the world. How will the new government reconcile its policies with those of the younger generation as well as with Hamas and the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade?  Who will actually rule Gaza after Israel withdraws; this is both an opportunity and a huge problem - will chaos ensue or law and order established? It is unclear whether Abbas can control the numerous war lords and Jihadists. It is likely to remain unclear at least until the parliamentary elections and the Israeli withdrawal both scheduled for the summer of 2005.

What will happen when Parliamentary elections are held in July? Is seems very likely that Hamas will run as a political party in the newly elected legislative body and win some seats although how many is currently unknown.  After three of the four rounds of a staggered Municipal elections system Fatah has won 65, Hamas 43 and 6 are still unknown

That is close enough to be concerned in the legislative elections? The biggest problem with Abba’s Fatah party is the failures of Arafat. Whether Abbas can change that before the July elections is problematical. The Israeli withdrawal and the job creation based on European and American money will take place after the elections and be of little benefit to Abbas during that election.

Will Abbas and Fatah be able to form a coalition with Hamas?
Hamas has never accepted Israel as a legitimate state in the Middle East. How can Israel negotiate with an entity part of whose members wish its destruction? Like Hizbollah they continue to have an armed wing. Recognizing Israel was a condition that Arafat accepted with Oslo. Hamas, which considers the Land of Israel/Palestine to be consecrated Islamic soil, would almost certainly refuse to sign an "end of conflict" agreement that formalizes Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, opting instead for some sort of long term "truce. This might suit Sharon’s own concept, but not Abbas’.

Sheik Yassin developed a political strategy for Hamas a year before his death; at some point a cease fire; a movement to the ballot box; winning over Fatah and a Palestinian state on all territory occupied in 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a return of refugees to Israel. If this remains Hamas’ program how will Israel negotiate?

What happens to the roadmaps declaration of dismantling terrorist infrastructure? Will Israel agree to coordinate with such a body? According to the New York Times (March 11, 2005) America decided to accept Hizbollah as a political party in Lebanon. Can Israel do otherwise with Hamas? Can Abbas deliver reform particularly in security and increase the socioeconomic status of the people? Is he caught between the jaws of Israel and the jaws of the Islamists/Jihadists?

Can short term solutions be implemented without taking into account the medium and long term? How will one explain to the youth from Gaza that a de facto state is a short term solution? How will one explain to the West Bank population that a bantustan type state is short term until a contiguous state can be established? Can the Palestinians politicians implement such agreements?

A two state solution is defined as to include a contiguous Palestinian state. Are the majority of Palestinians committed to this two state solution? Is Hamas? Recently the Hamas leader on the West Bank, Sheik Hassan Yussef, declared that the group would consider an indefinite ‘hudna’ - or pause in armed conflict. The ‘hudna’ meant that both sides in the lifelong conflict could live in safety and peace as long as it lasts, and that it could even be extended indefinitely. ‘We can dream about all Palestine being Muslim - like some Israelis dream of a Greater Israel that includes all our lands - but it is not practical,’ he said. 

Recently a Bi-national state (democratic and secular) has been given significant media attention as a result of academic discussion, not among politicians, a more realistic group of humanity. Israel, the academics claim, is ‘distinctive and an anachronism’ (Professors Tony Judt and Saree Makdisi – the latter is a nephew of the late Edward Said, a respected Professor of English who may have invented the concept). This has been discussed by the 57 member Organization of Islamic Countries meeting in Malaysia where the President of Malaysia Mahathir told the world that ‘Jews ruled the world by proxy’. Malaysia has a minority population of 40% (compared to Israel’s non-Jewish minority of 20%). Malaysia’s Sensitive Issues Act of 1971 makes it a criminal offense to question the legalized discrimination in favor of Muslims. One wonders whether such legislation in itself make Malaysia an anachronism? Would Jewish Israelis be as free in this proposed Bi-national democratic and secular state as minorities in say Saudi Arabia or the majority Shi’ites in Saddam’s Iraq? Or the ‘dhimmis’ (both Jewish and Christian) in the Muslim states in the not so olden of days?

Would a secular state be acceptable to Sheik Yussuf, a ‘Palestinian-Islamic’ mixed state comparable to Israel or is only an ‘Islamic State’ acceptable? The Palestinian people have not been given the opportunity to define their own future. As opposed to other Arab countries they may have an opportunity to start from a relatively clear slate. Do the neighboring Arab countries – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Iran - actually have an interest in solving this Arab rage against Israel and creating a democratic Palestinian state? From the recent Algiers Arab Summit it is clear that ‘the Arab leaders themselves have lost faith in their ability to change the terrible conditions of the Middle East, for which they are collectively responsible’. (Our columnist Sami Mouboyed on March 25.)

Will some of these leaders be required, by international pressure to welcome Palestinian refugees into their own countries? But that requires the Palestinians having their own state and that in turn requires the end of Israeli occupation.

Both parties have internal conflicts. When the Israeli Parliament approved the original disengagement the coalition had all the right wing parties plus the secular middle class party Shinui; that government radically changed as a result. Two right wing parties and Shinui left the government coalition, 1/3 of the governing Likud party members voted against the plan, the Labor Party and a small Ultra-Orthodox party joined the new coalition and Shinui and the left wing party Yahad although not joining the coalition voted in its favor. Under the Special Theory of Relativity that governs Israeli politics the other issue of the day the budget, the government actually has a different coalition. (In America this would be called ‘pork barrel’, that is a no no in Israel.) In a Parliamentary vote on March 29 the Prime Minister’s party voted two thirds for a referendum and against the Disengagement. The Likud, the party of Sharon is in a state of array. Without these changes the disengagement plan would not have been approved.

The Israelis have significant numbers (although a minority of the population) still believing in the ‘Greater Land of Israel’ thesis while the Palestinians have significant numbers (also a minority) seeking the destruction of the ‘State of Israel’. Public opinion and internal pressure on both leaderships border on the possibilities of civil war. Many of the settlers realize that while the Gaza disengagement is important it is also inevitable, its real importance is as the beginning of the end of the settler ideology and the dream of the Greater Israel thesis. Several Israeli newspapers have written of the Prime Minister being referred to as a ‘traitor’ and his life being in danger as a result of a possible assassination attempt by an Israeli zealot. According to the Shin Bet (Israel’s secret police) a statement has been issued that ‘Yigal Amir lives [the assassinator of Rabin], Rabin is dead, Sharon will die’. 

According to the Jerusalem Post (March 4, 2005) some settler groups, if forced to evacuate their homes, have ‘vowed’ to commit suicide.  It is interesting to compare suicide to suicide bombing; killing oneself versus killing innocent civilians who did not volunteer.

What percentage in a population of zealous individual insurgents is required to make a civil war? Francis Fukuyama suggested ‘5, 10, 15 percent of the population so alienated that they're willing to risk everything in a violent insurgency’ would be sufficient (N.Y.Times Feb. 6, 2005).

 While neither society can reconcile its own paradoxes, each insists that the other side correct its own – first. The Israelis insist that Abbas disarm the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure. While that is not likely to happen in September 2004, while Arafat was still alive 77% supported suicide bombing according to Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, by February 2005 after Abbas’ election that number had dropped to 29%. The Palestinians (with significant international support) demand Israel freeze the settlements.  While that also is not likely to happen the Sharon government has committed to close down 34 ‘illegal’ settlements after the Gaza disengagement. What happens in the several months after the disengagement in July-August and after the July legislative elections will determine where the peace process goes.

Does anyone believe the final status issues are ripe for resolution? The current strategies of the two leaderships are opposed. The Sharon government seeks not a ‘peace partner’ but a ‘coordination partner’ for the indefinite future. It has not even eliminated ‘illegal outposts’ according to its own definition. The government of Abbas seeks a ‘peace partner’ to negotiate final settlement issues as immediately as is possible after a ‘hudna’. Interim agreements are the last thing Abbas wants. Permanent settlement is the last thing Sharon wants. Both parties represent their populations. A joint study by the Hebrew University and the Palestinian Center for Policy in March 2005 showed the following: 59% of the Palestinians prefer immediate return to final status negotiations on all issues in dispute at once, and 31% prefer a gradual step-by-step approach. Among Israelis, 57% prefer a gradual a step-by-step approach and 34% prefer a final status solution of all issues at once.

How will this be resolved? How do we get beyond the transition? What will happen to the ‘pause in conflict’ (the ‘hudna’) when Hamas and the al Aqsa Brigade realize late in 2005 or 2006 what Israeli objectives are – realistic from an Israeli perspective?

Would it be helpful for George Bush to articulate in writing the American vision of what a final settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians could look like. Might this position paper then be used as the basis of negotiations mediated by the United States? Would this likely help or hurt the significant domestic constituency problems each party has?

Can interim arrangements resulting in a non-contiguous Palestinian state leading to a long term contiguous state be managed? Can the current Israeli coalition government freeze settlements after the disengagement? Or will the next Israeli elections resemble the 1996 elections? Given the disengagement when Israelis become violent with each other (a highly likely event) and Hamas and the al Aqsa Brigade celebrating the withdrawal (a certainty) is an Israeli right wing backlash likely? Surprisingly Abbas would gain credibility from this event. ‘These are the kind of people I have to deal with’; while Sharon’s right wing opponents will say ‘We told you so’. Time is not favorable to either the Palestinians or the Israelis.

Arabic culture is far from western. Political affairs include familial, tribal, religious, bureaucratic and clique relationships among these groups. In this culture the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line. Yasser Arafat and his administration were typical of that Arabic culture. That is one of the reasons Camp David failed. Mahmoud Abbas is of the Arab culture but he seems to also understand western culture. But even so does this culture prefer processes to solutions? Solutions require decision making; not easy with a bazaar mentality. Israel itself is a strange hybrid of western and Arabic culture will have its own difficulty in ‘final status issues’ decision making. Israel is a true immigrant society made of an uneasy collection of people from Ethiopia and South Africa, Morocco and Germany, Yemin and Rumanian, Russia and Sabras (born in Israel), ruled by inept Arabic cultured and European socialistic bureaucrats.

Can only charismatic leadership succeed? Do institutions matter? Can systemic institutional problems be solved in the short term? Abbas is not charismatic but the system of succession worked. However a serious candidate (Marwan Barghouti) was ‘forced’ out of the election. What would have happened if he ran and won? It was possible!

Would the Palestinians rely on the Israelis regarding the long term solution?  Will both parties continue to be committed to the two state solution? Every action by the Palestinians is viewed by some Israelis negatively, every action by Israelis is viewed by some Palestinians negatively. Some Israelis view the ‘hudna’ as a ploy to allow Hamas to rebuild their severely degraded arms and organizations; some Palestinians view Israeli disengagement as withdrawing under fire. Do Israeli’s trust Palestinians, do Palestinians trust Israelis? The answer to both questions is no; trust between the parties does not exist.

Israel while a military power compared to its neighboring enemies is nevertheless a small country surrounded by a population fifty times as large of implacable enemies many of whom wish its destruction.

Do we need to understand the past? Yes but only to determine how not to continue the process into the future. In the best case scenario this neighborhood of the Mid East may be more peaceful in another generation but by how much is problematical.