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Will Prophetic Principles Triumph over Prophecies?
George W. Bush, who proposed the boldest peace initiative of any American president to solve the Palestine issue, managed to deliver only the most meager results during his two-term presidency. The Roadmap for Peace, developed by the United States in cooperation with Russia, the European Union, and the UN (the Quartet), was presented to Israel and the Palestinian Authority on 30 Apr. 2003. Despite the proclaimed hopes, however, it has been a clear fiasco and anything but a roadmap to peace. Although the Bush administration, during its final year in power, organized the largest conference for Middle East peace ever assembled and again made the boldest promises, very few people are holding their breath. The Roadmap initiative is practically over, and all signs point to a dead-end.
Israel continues to confiscate more land and build more illegal settlements, while the Palestinians continue to hold onto their towns, villages, farmland, and houses with all the strength they can muster. All participants in this widening confrontation keep digging themselves into a deeper hole and bringing the world to the brink of disaster. The disparity between the parties is great, outside help is increasingly favoring one party over the other, and no honest broker or visionary leader has yet appeared to take a principled stand and advance a fair solution.
How did the search for peace bring us to this sad state of affairs? Can the ongoing dynamic be changed from its current state to one that promotes real hope and peace?
The Making of the Roadmap
In his 4 Apr. 2002 speech, Bush outlined his formal position: a two-state solution that would result in an independent Palestinian state living “side by side” with a Jewish state in historical Palestine. "The Roadmap,” he declared, “represents a starting point toward achieving the vision of two states, a secure State of Israel and a viable, peaceful, democratic Palestine. It is the framework for progress towards lasting peace and security in the Middle East..." A year later, the State Department produced a detailed plan with specific phases and benchmarks to guide the peace process and set 2005 as the year for achieving a “final and comprehensive settlement.” The results are well known: illegal Israeli settlements continue to grow rapidly; the Palestinian Authority is divided in two; and Gaza is subject to repeated military assaults, starvation, and economic blockades by Israel.
The State Department’s plan was in many ways an academic exercise, written with little attention to the dynamics of the political conflict that gripped the region for the last sixty years. The plan placed all the cards in the hands of the Israeli authority, requiring the immediate and complete cessation of hostilities by Palestinians while permitting the Israeli military to continue its incursions into the Palestinian towns and villages to arrest Palestinian activists and assassinate Palestinian militants. Mahmoud Abbas, excited by the Roadmap and what he believed to be a new commitment by the Bush administration to broker a new peace, persuaded Hamas to commit to a truce. The truce lasted till August 21st, when, Israel, using an American made Apache, assassinated Ismail Abushanab. Abushanab was considered by many Palestinians to be moderate, who strongly supported the negotiated truce.
The Bush administration saw no need to pressure the government of Ariel Sharon to stop its incursions into Palestinian territories, and to at least freeze settlements as an important measure and first step to building trust. President Bush insisted that the United States cannot pressure the two parties to peace, and that future peace must evolve through negotiations and the mutual agreements between the warring parties. This practically gave Israel the upper hand in deciding the future of the Roadmap, as it enjoyed overwhelming fire power.
The outcome of the Roadmap sponsored by the Bush administration is no different than that outcome of the Oslo accords sponsored by the Clinton administration: more expansion and more resistance. The Israelis are determined to pursue the goal of Greater Israel, and the Palestinians are increasingly willing to take strong punishments and heavy casualties to hold unto their land.
Moses' Mission and its Reenactment in Modern Times
The Jewish claim to Palestine is based on the divine promise to Abraham, a prophet claimed by the followers of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: "On that day, God made a covenant with Abraham, saying: "To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river the Euphrates. The land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonite, the Chitties, Perizzites, Refraim, the Emorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Yevusites." (Genesis 15:18-21)
The Promised Land was further specified during the time of Moses: "Now Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the LORD showed him all the land, Gilead as far as Dan, and all Naphtali and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, and the Negev and the plain in the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, "This is the land which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, 'I will give it to your descendants'; I have let you see with your eyes, but you shall not go over there." (Deuteronomy 34:1-4)
This second promise given in Deuteronomy evidently delineates a smaller expanse of land promised to Moses than the one promised to Abraham. The promise was fulfilled during the reign of Joshua, and reached its farthest expansion under Solomon when the Israelite controlled much of Greater Syria and parts of Iraq and southern Turkey.
Muslims do not disagree with the Biblical claims, as the Qur’an reaffirms God’s promise to Moses that his followers will be delivered from their Egyptian servitude to the Holy Land. They do not, however, accept the claim that a Biblical promise can be legitimately reenacted after thousands of years and used as a ground for gathering world Jewry in Palestine and dispossessing its current inhabitants of their ancestral land. Thus they consider such a deed to be a blatant violation of universally accepted moral principles and recognized international law.
The early pioneers of Zionist ideology, consumed with obtaining the existing powers’ endorsement of their demand for a Jewish homeland, hardly worried about Arab reaction. On 29 Aug. 1897, they met in Basel, Switzerland, to refine their plan to take over Palestine. Imperial Europe, then expanding its colonial control into Asia and Africa, was forging new countries out of old ones and installing new regimes to replace fallen empires. In addition, the rise of European nationalism and the subsequent desire of European nations to affirm their national identity posed serious challenge to European Jewry. Establishing a homeland in historic Palestine seemed to offer an effective solution to Europe’s chronic anti-Semitism and fulfill the centuries-long Jewish longing for the Holy Land.
On 2 Nov. 1917, the Zionist Organization extracted the Balfour Declaration, which recognized Palestine as a Jewish homeland. In 1919, it submitted a six-point proposal for establishing a Jewish Palestine to the Peace Conference of Paris. Two points were particularly notable: the boundaries of Palestine would “extend on the west to the Mediterranean, on the north to the Lebanon, on the east to the Hedjaz railway and the Gulf of Akabah,” and the League of Nations was called upon to make Palestine a British mandate.
The prospect of a Jewish homeland brought great excitement to Zionist leaders, as they realized that their dream is being transformed into reality. Many Zionist leaders did not fully grasp the direction of world history and the full consequences of reliving an ancient prophecy in modern times. Zionist leaders underestimated the reaction of the local population of Palestine, the Arab Middle East, and the rest of the Muslim world, to the formation of a Jewish State in the region. In an article by H. Sacher, published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1919 under the title “A Jewish Palestine,” the author, a Jewish Historian, argued in support of the founding of a Jewish State, and envisaged a harmonious and peaceful society in which all live together well. Jewish Palestine, he insisted, “will do justice between all the nationalities within its borders. It will establish the equality of men and men, and work toward democracy, political and economic. It will be one of the pillars of the League of Nations, and by its relationship to all the scattered communities of Israel, it will forge powerful links for the brotherhood of the peoples. In the Near East and the Middle East it will strive to replace the broken tyranny of the Turk by a harmonious cooperation between Jew, Arab, and Armenian.”
Sacher saw in Palestine a place for self expression of religious and national identity long denied to European Jewry. Sacher portrayed the impact of an independent homeland on ordinary Jews in ways that revealed the impact of the homogenizing modern state and culture. “There he will see the Jewish faith developing freely,” he pointed out, “according to the law of its being, distracted neither by opposition, nor by surrender to an alien environment. There he will see the Jewish national spirit expressing itself in a society modeled on the Jewish idea of justice, in a Hebrew literature, in a Hebrew art, in the myriad activities which make the life of a people on its own soil, under its own sky.”
Reality Check and Emerging Demography
The sixty years that passed since the founding of the State of Israel have been traumatic, particularly for the Palestinian people, but increasingly to the world community. The migration of European Jews to Palestine began in earnest under the British mandate, and as the number of Jewish settlements in Palestine multiplied, Palestinians revolted repeatedly against Britain, in unsuccessful bids to gain independence. Independence was instead handed to the Zionist organization, which in 1948 declared the birth of the State of Israel. The war of independence, which was fought mainly against Arab militias, led to the displacement of 711,000 Palestinians, mostly in surrounding Arab countries.