Not only is this issue highly complicated, in my experience it is almost unique. On other issues, people can be tentative, can admit ignorance. On this, almost everyone has a strong opinion. Conflicting views are held passionately by the parties involved, especially since the different peoples of this region have endured terrible suffering.  One can scarcely hope to be free from all distortion, even by the very choice of what to mention and what to leave out.

I want to stress also that my own direct experience is both very limited, and out-of-date: I speak neither Hebrew nor Arabic. I made about 8 visits over 5 years, up to 2004. (Explain my then role – vis-a-vis CBCEW and then Patriarch Sabbah, arranging conferences, and with the bishops visiting the two presidents – Moshe Katsav, now in prison, and Yasser Arafat.) I knew Jerusalem, but not the secular Israel of Tel Aviv and the northern coast. When I was last there, the Separation Wall had not yet been completed. In terms of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, I visited Bethlehem often, Ramallah a few times, Gaza twice. I continue to follow the issues, but necessarily at a distance.

Thirdly: I admit to strong (but not, I hope, uncritical) Palestinian sympathies, and to having serious problems with the politics of the Government of Israel (GOI). Christian Europeans must be aware of our need for repentance with respect to a long history of anti-Jewish prejudice. This calls for modesty in the essential task of forming and expressing moral judgements about contemporary affairs. But nor should we allow the Palestinians to be punished for our guilt towards Jews.

That is enough by way of apologies.

HISTORICAL-POLITICAL BACKGROUND

By the ‘Holy Land’, we mean the area where the great events of the Gospels took place. Today this area roughly corresponds to Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories. Of course the territory is also Holy to Jews and to Muslims

By the First World War (1914), the Jewish people was scattered throughout the world: about 80,000 Jews in Palestine, and about 600,000 Arabs.  Palestine had by then been part of the Ottoman Empire for four hundred years and was overwhelmingly Arab and Islamic in culture. But in the nineteenth century a ‘Zionist’ movement, which aspired to achieve Jewish sovereignty in the province of Palestine, had arisen among Jews, principally in Europe. In 1917, a letter of the British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, became famous as the ‘Balfour Declaration’ and gave the Zionist movement new impetus. It supported ‘the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people. ‘Nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.’

Zionism now became a serious political movement. The Declaration referred to Arabs merely as ‘non-Jewish communities’, and made no promise to  safeguarding their political rights.  So from that time, the project of Jewish return to the longed-for land was linked to a claim to ‘sovereignty’ that could only be implemented at Arab expense.

Following the First World War, Britain accepted a Mandate from the League of Nations to govern Palestine. Jewish migration to Palestine increased,  especially after Hitler came to power in Germany. In 1947, Britain finally withdrew its troops, very suddenly and after violence that would now be called terrorism. handing over to the UN. The UN proposed a partition plan by which there would be a Jewish state, a Palestinian state, and an international zone to include Jerusalem. (That international guarantee for Jerusalem was also recommended by Holy See.)  This plan also failed.

In May 1948, the State of Israel was declared. Arab armies attacked Israel but were no match for the Israeli forces, and Israel quickly gained control of large areas which the UN partition plan had originally allotted to the Arab state. What for the Israelis was the War of Independence was for the Arabs the ‘catastrophe’ (Al-naqba).  Hundreds of Arab villages were cleared: and partly as a result of the massacre of about 250 Palestinian villagers by Israeli forces at Deir Yasin, there began a massive exodus of more than 700,000 Palestinian refugees.

To this period, therefore, can be traced two issues that have marked all subsequent events:

–    the refusal of many Arab states even to recognise the State of Israel’s right to exist

–    the Palestinian refugees’ claim to the right to return to their homeland.

Since 1948, the region has endured more or less continuous conflict, occasional war. Some dates:

–    1964, founding of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

–    1967: ‘Six-Day War in 1967, when Israel devastated the armed forces of Egypt, capturing Sinai and the Gaza Strip and occupied territory previously held by Jordan (the ‘West Bank’ (‘Cisjordanie’ in French),  and East Jerusalem, and also Syria (the Golan Heights).  A further 300,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes.

After 1967, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 242, insisting that the gain of territory by war was inadmissible, and called for Israeli withdrawal from the conquered territories in return for Arab recognition of Israel. Resolution 252 applied the same principles to Israeli annexation of Jerusalem. Neither 242 nor 252 ave never been implemented. From 1967, Israel has been the dominant power in the region.

In 1973, Israel was attacked by Egypt supported by Syria), on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year.  In 1978 and again in 1982 and 2006, Israel invaded Lebanon intending to root out Palestinian forces harassing Israel from Lebanese territory.

There have also been many guerrilla or commando attacks by both sides, inside or outside the region.  In perhaps the two most notorious, nine Israeli athletes were murdered at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972 by the ‘Black September’ group of Palestinian extremists: and in Lebanon in 1982, after Palestinian forces were evacuated under US supervision and Israeli troops had occupied the vicinity, rightwing ‘Christian’ Lebanese forces massacred the inhabitants of the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila.

In 1987 there began the first intifada, a widespread and sometimes violent civil campaign against Israeli rule, which provoked massive countermeasures. The second Intifada began in 2000.

Hamas (the Islamic party – the word is an Arabic acronym, meaning ‘Islamic Resistance Movement’ won election in 2005, took control of Gaza, with Fatah, the secular socialist party governing the West Bank. Hamas has sometimes called for a jihad (Holy War) against Israel while bitterly opposing peace negotiations. At other times it has agreed a ‘truce’. In the Gaza war (‘Operation Cast Lead’) of  December 2008 – January 2009. 13 Israelis died, and 1400 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians. The UN report written by the South African judge Richard Goldstone, accusing both sides of war crimes, is now thrown in doubt by its author.

The cyclical violence is so entrenched that every attack may be described as a response or reprisal for an attack of the other side: a cycle of despair.

Peace Process

Attempts to build peace have been as common as outbreaks of violence

1978: Camp David Agreement between Israel and Egypt in 1978. Israel returned Sinai to Egypt – and Egypt became a temporary outcast to other Arab states.

1993: The multilateral process, the Oslo Accord. PLO withdrew its denial of the right of Israel to exist in peace and security, Israel recognised the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Palestinians gained a degree of autonomy in Gaza and in 4% of the West Bank.

2003: The Road Map, the framework that still in theory underlies all recent negotiations. Full title:

The Road Map: A Performance-Based Road map to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (April 2003) sponsored by the Quartet (the United States, European Union, United Nations, and Russia). It outlined a three-stage process, leading to a final and comprehensive settlement of the conflict by 2005: on the one hand though “an end to violence and terrorism”, and on the other hand, “through Israel’s readiness to do what is necessary for a democratic Palestinian state to be established”. The fact that we are still stuck eight years later shows the problem.

BASIC STATISTICS (JULY 2010)

Israel population:7.5m,  + 300,000 settlers in West Bank and 200,000 in East Jerusalem

Roughly 75% Jewish, 24% Arab, 1% others (Africa, etc)

West Bank: Population 2.5m (so settlers make up about 10%)

Religion: Muslim 75%, Jewish 17% Christian & other 8% (so maybe 200,000 Christians)

Gaza: Population, 1.6 million: in just 360 square km (36 x 10)

ISSUES TO BE RESOLVED

Residency Rights and Housing

Since 1967, the Israeli Government has sought to establish a Jewish majority in East Jerusalem by promoting Jewish movement into the area and by impeding Arab growth.  Israel decided that Jerusalemite Palestinians, including those born in the city, counted as foreigners not as inhabitants of Jerusalem by right.  Their residency is subject to the issue of permits which may at any time be revoked, for example if they leave the city for a certain period. It has been almost impossible for Arabs to get permission to build or extend houses. To build without authorisation risks instant demolition.  So growing families are compelled to leave Jerusalem. In contrast, Jewish settlements have been expanded in the occupied territories and especially around Jerusalem itself, often through the confiscation of land.

This policy is designed to be irreversible: in the phrase commonly used, tit seeks to establish ‘facts on the ground’, though the international community insists that such ‘facts’ will not be allowed to determine the terms of a final settlement. But even the moderate government of Ehud Barak found it almost impossible to to remove settlers. Netenyahu’s Government is far closer to them.

The word ‘settlements’ is deliberately misleading. They are fortified towns, which dominate the territory physically (hilltops) and politically. The road system reserved to them, denied to the Palestinians make it almost impossible to travel from one Palestinian area to another (to work, to visit relatives in hospital, to worship). (Where else are you banned from travelling on all the best roads in your own territory?) In 2010, Netenyahu planted trees in West Bank settlements saying that they will be part of the state of Israel ‘for eternity’. He is very fond of this phrase, using it often of Jerusalem. I would say that eternity is not a political concept. The notion of eternal possession rejects the entire concept of the Road Map. The issue of residency (settlements, etc) poisons every political negotiation.

It was settlement building that provoked the political crisis of this year. In November 2010, the USA proposed to Israel a 90-day settlement construction freeze (in the West Bank but not in East Jerusalem!) in return for ‘security guarantees’, and for a pledge to block all international resolutions criticising Israel – and even a pledge not to demand further such freezes. This was a truly astonishing proposal: seeking a merely temporary halt in return for a quasi-permanent guarantee. It seemed that the USA was desperate to get results within 90 days – and this after so many decades! It also seemed an offer that the Israelis would be mad to decline, and it seemed to blackmail the Palestinians, since the US is saying that it will not put any brake on future Israeli plans. Just as amazingly, Israel refused the offer. In December, US backed down. The climb down recognised harsh realities: the weakness of both the Israeli and the US Govts. Netenyahu could not deliver his divided cabinet even on a deal that was great for them.

Refugee, ‘Right to Return’

Since 1948, there are large communities of expelled Palestinians in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt, as well as about 13 million Palestinians worldwide. Arab countries did little to integrate them, maybe because their political significance was tied precisely to their refugee status.  Obviously the return of one million refugees, some exiled for fifty years, would present massive problems for one hard-pressed economy (Israel) and one fragile and emerging one (Palestine).  It would also shift the balance of democratic representation in both states. Arabs regard such a return as an undeniable human right and a requirement of international law (though hard to effect): the Israeli Government argues that return is totally impracticable.

Water

Water is a vital regional resource. Many Palestinian towns and villages get water supplies only one or two days a week. Gaza’s drinking-water supply has a sodium content ten times that considered safe, leading to such health problems as kidney ailments and hypertension.  Israel, with roughly 10% of the population of the West Bank,  controls eighty per cent of the water sources, and consumes around 90% percent of the water itself: this is experienced as oppression

A De la Salle Brother at Bethlehem University, a hydrologist, once showed me a map in which settlements were superimposed on the water sources: the coincidence is almost total: in other words, the location of settlements is partly designed to monopolise the scarce resource.

Civil and Military Security

Since 1967, despite its military dominance, Israel has been faced with a series of guerrilla and paramilitary movements, which are in part sponsored by Arab states: Such organisations have a sufficient capacity for violence to maintain regional tensions at a dangerous level. This is one of the key contrasting paradigm clashes (radically different ways of imaging the problem:

–    Israel’s basic stance: no peace, no ‘final agreement, without Israel’s guaranteed security)

–    Palestinians: no lasting security for Israel without a peaceful and just final agreement.

The other key paradigm clash frames every issue.

Palestinians see themselves as a powerless remnant, facing the third or fourth largest military power in the world, as illustrated in the Gaza War. When they were accused of terrorism, they say they would happily swap their bus bombs or their handmade rockets for Israeli helicopter gunships and (as in Lebanon) cluster bombs that render land uninhabitable afterwards.

But Israelis see their tiny state of 6 million not as powerful, but as surrounded by 150 mullion hostile Arabs, many of whom would (like Iran – of course not Arab!) wish Israel to disappear altogether.

Neither of these paradigms is simply wrong: and they cannot be reconciled.

To illustrate the Israeli concern: in early February, 2006, Hamas offered Israel a 10-year truce “in return for a complete Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories: the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem,” – although it would not impede other Palestinian groups from carrying out such operations.  A tactical truce is not peace. But the international response seemed to me odd. The Quartet  stated that financial assistance would only continue if Hamas (1) renounced violence, (2) recognized Israel, and (3) accepted previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements, which Hamas refused to do. The first condition seems to me very strange: what government is asked to renounce ‘violence’ not merely ‘terrorism’? A government is that which claims the sole possession of legitimate force. Israel, US, other states would never be asked to renounce violence.

Similarly, clearly Iran and Syria support Hezbollah (the Shiite ‘Party of God’): naturally a grave concern for Israel leading to a major war in Lebanon, 2006. But – without defending Hezbollah – in no way a contributor to peace – we tend to talk about terrorism in a one-sided manner. But the state of Israel also  came to being partly through terrorist tactics including the bombing of the King David Hotel (Stern Gang, Irgun, etc) to force out the British. Reagan supported the Nicaraguan Contras, a series of US presidents supported Angola’s terrorist UNITA for 25 years, alongside Israel and RSA .

Human Rights

(I have no time for this, but both sides are accused of grave human rights violations by the respected Israeli human rights body B’tselem).  [Accusations against Israel concern the practices of arbitrary arrest and the ill-treatment or even torture of a high proportion of those detained; of deportation without due process; of demolishing houses by way of punishment; of repeatedly sealing off of Palestinian areas, so stifling all normal life and economic activity, access to health care.  Allegations against the Palestinian Authority concern practices against its own people: the imposition of capital punishment without due process; torture in custody, sometimes leading to death – especially, recently, in the internal struggle between Hamas and Fatah; mass arrests (though these may sometimes result from the Israeli and USA pressure to control terrorism); and the violation of free expression by closing newspapers and arresting critical journalists.]

The Status of Jerusalem

One indicator of the unique status of Jerusalem is its name.  To Jews it is ‘Yerushalayim’ (‘Founded by God’), to Muslims it is ‘Al-Quds’ (‘The Holy’).  Israel’s consistent position has been that a unified Jerusalem must remain the ‘eternal capital of Israel’, under exclusive Israeli sovereignty.  The Palestinian Authority holds, no less firmly, that Jerusalem must be the capital of the Palestinian state, though Palestinians lay claim not to the entire modern city but only to its eastern, Arab part.  The almost universal international view, including that of Britain, of the Holy See and of the United Nations, is that East Jerusalem is occupied territory, illegally annexed: as one indication of this conviction, all states except Costa Rica and El Salvador maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv, rather than Jerusalem, to avoid symbolising agreement to the present situation.  (Is this still true?) Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, then the senior Vatican official on these matters, described the situation of Jerusalem today as ‘a case of manifest international injustice . . . brought about and maintained by force’.

Therefore the Holy See (with those other churches which signed the 1994 Memorandum already referred to) calls for a special judicial and political statute for Jerusalem, guaranteed by the international community. In the face of the Israeli claim to sole sovereignty, such a statute is held to be necessary in order to assure to all the city’ inhabitants an equal enjoyment of human rights. and the freedom to pursue their spiritual, cultural, political and economic activities.  Not surprisingly, Israel rejects the demand.

I wrote some Appendices (about Christian community, about the relationship of Israel to the USA, about the question of Israel as a ‘Jewish state’ and about the present difficulties of the PNA). (They became appendices because the talk was getting too long!) But I want to conclude with outlining what seems to be the challenge to the EU: and then some brief conclusions

CHALLENGE TO THE EU

EU as a member of the Quartet, therefore with acknowledged international responsibility. The USA is so prominently a supporter of Israel that it is virtually unable to take any action against it (huge military aid on unique conditions – see Appendix). After the USA elections of November 2010 have given the Republican Party a majority in Congress and sufficient seats in the Senate to block what they wish this is even more so, and the USA has been feeble in restraining Israel’s increasingly aggressive settlement building. The Republican Party will be firmly pro-Israel – and its Tea Party members strongly anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian.

In February of this year, the US vetoed an otherwise unanimous UNSC resolution condemning Israel settlement building:: so 14 votes for (including France, UK, etc) and one vote against, USA. 130 countries had sponsored this resolution. The US itself criticised settlement building but said the resolution would ‘harden the attitudes of both sides’. So the veto was not on a matter of principle but of political judgement. That seemed very thin reasoning. It is surely the settlement building itself that hardens attitudes! The Palestinians have every reason to believe that the ‘facts on the ground’ cannot be subsequently reversed. Israel and USA stand alone, whether USA likes it or not.

The question for me. If USA is now virtually paralysed in brokering ME solutions, can the EU step into the vacuum, given also its huge financial support to the Palestinians. EU is largest non-Arab humanitarian benefactor of Palestinian territories.

This is notable: but even so, the EU has always played a secondary role to the USA in terms of politics.

The answer is probably No – but Why not? Its own weakness and divisions? Ort because the USA, even if it is powerless and compromised itself can block others taking over the primary role.

Nevertheless, the EU has a special responsibility. This is especially the case given Israel’s status as ‘associate member of EU’ (since 2000, as part of Euro-Mediterranean Partnership)

In December 2010, 26 European elder politicians and diplomats called for sanctions to be imposed against Israel if it does not stop illegal settlement expansion and withdraw to the pre-1967 borders. They included conservative German politicians such as  Helmut Schmidt, as well as Javier Solana, former German President Richard von Weizsacker, former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, former Italian Prime Ministers Romano Prodi, former Irish President Mary Robinson, among others. included a demand to ban imports of settler products. There was a counter-statment to this from the EPP saying that such a ban would harm European consumers.

But Catherine Ashton simply said that this did not represent the policy of the EU itself.

CONCLUSIONS

Impossible to foresee: but any acceptable conclusion must include five basic elements:-

–    International recognition by Arab states of Israel’s right to exist and its basic security. However this ‘right to exist’ does not imply its recognition as a Jewish state (see Appendix). Israel always claims to be the ‘only democracy in the ME. That might soon change, given the changes in  Arab countries. But a ‘Jewish state’ could hardly be a true democracy, only a state with some democratic features (such as strong and independent judiciary, a free press) as well as some features that are undemocratic (systematic discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities,  state determined by e perhaps unique mix of theocracy & ethnicity (Judaism as religion or as race).

–    The establishment of a viable Palestinian state, recognised by Israel, with what pertains to a state, such as control of its borders and internal communications. This does not predetermine the precise location of those borders. If some Israeli settlements are allowed to remain, there must be adequate compensation – either by equivalent land-swaps elsewhere, or financially: and road systems within the state of Palestine must not be reserved for the exclusive use of Israelis, so that they seal off Palestinian areas from each other ;

–    Palestine must have sufficient assurances that its resources are available for its own benefit. This affects especially the strategically vital water sources;

–    The human rights of minorities present in the other state must be protected: the numbers of Israelis in Palestine (.e. any remaining ‘settlers’) and the far larger number of Arabs present in Israel. This entails, for the Israelis, right of passage to Israel and due protection by the Palestinian police: and it entails for the Arabs the right to public services, education, and especially adequate housing where they are currently the victims of radical discrimination.

–    There must be a fundamental mutual respect between the mainstream religious beliefs of Jews and of Muslims. (This does not imply that the various extremist elements of belief on both sides – those Muslims who believe that the Jews are ‘renegades and must be driven into the sea’, or those who believe that the whole territory traversed by Mohammed is waqf: or equally that the whole of the land is ‘promised’ by God to Israel beyond any possibility of political negotiation;

–    Hope: there are powerful civil society movements – e.g associations of family victims of both sides, moved by compassion. This is crucial. I remember a young Moldovan-Israeli woman, a university student. She shocked her immigrant parents by working for human rights for Palestinians, especially in west Bank. But going by bus to university in Jerusalem, she would sit next to the most worrying character on the bus: telling  me that she would rather be killed by a bomb than paralysed. She was 22 Years Old. (Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, with Rabbi Eric Ascherman, etc.)

APPENDIX I: CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY

The Christian community, comprising approximately ten per cent of the overall Palestinian population, is complex. (What figure now?) The Latin-rite Catholic Patriarchate of Jerusalem is only one of several Catholic churches, along with the Melkites (Greek Catholics) and others.  There is also a small but significant community of Hebrew-speaking Christians in Israel, who share the national culture.

Since 1967, forty per cent of all Christians have left the country. By 2000, Latin-rite Catholics now numbered just 72,000 in the whole of Israel, Palestine and Jordan.  Few jobs and little decent housing are available, so even those Christians who become graduates (for example through the admirable Bethlehem University) experience great pressure to emigrate: and as few of those who emigrate will ever have the chance to return, the community is further eroded.  Most significant of all, the continued regional conflict profoundly debilitates those who are relatively powerless.  In 1992, the Archbishop of Canterbury expressed his fear that within fifteen years Jerusalem and Bethlehem, once lively Christian centres, could become almost theme parks as Christians grew fewer.  Conversely, the best hope for a Christian resurgence is the attaining of a just peace.

Bilateral Diplomatic Relations

In 1993, the Holy See and the State of Israel signed a ‘Fundamental Agreement’.  It affords mutual diplomatic recognition (of the Church in Israel, and Israel by the Church) and lays the foundation for further agreements on all aspects of ChurchState relations.  Implementation has however been very slow: agreement on the fiscal status of the Church (necessary for her economic survival) has not yet been agreed; Palestinian priests do not have freedom of access to Catholic prisoners, soldiers, hospital patients, nor other Palestinians access to the Holy Places of Jerusalem; measures are still lacking for the necessary provision of churches and other institutions.

In February 2000, the Holy See signed an analogous ‘Basic Agreement’ with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, as representative of the Palestinian people.  The Agreement specifies the rights and responsibilities of each party, and once again calls for a special statute for Jerusalem of the kind explained below.

APPENDIX II: USA AID TO ISRAEL

Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II. From 1976-2004, Israel was the largest annual recipient of U.S. foreign assistance, having since been supplanted by Iraq. Since 1985, the United States has provided nearly $3 billion in grants annually to Israel.

In December 2010, one proposal was to move the $3bn military aid per year from the Foreign Aid budget to the Pentagon budget so as to shield it from US spending cuts! (This would make Israel’s defence part of US’ own defence and prevent USA from exercising any kind of ‘honest broker’ role in the region.

Almost all U.S. bilateral aid to Israel is in the form of military assistance. In the past, Israel also had received significant economic assistance. Strong congressional support for Israel has resulted in Israel’s receiving benefits not available to other countries. For example, Israel can use some U.S. military assistance both for research and development in the United States and for military purchases from Israeli manufacturers.

In addition, all U.S. foreign assistance earmarked for Israel is delivered in the first 30 days of the fiscal year. Most other recipients normally receive aid in installments. Congress also appropriates funds for joint U.S.-Israeli missile defense programs.

In August 2007, the Bush Administration announced that it would increase U.S. military assistance to Israel by $6 billion over the next decade. The agreement calls for incremental annual increases in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) to Israel, reaching $3 billion a year by FY2011.

For FY2011, the Obama Administration requested $3 billion in FMF to Israel. According to the State Department’s FY2011 budget justification for Foreign Operations, “U.S. assistance will help ensure that Israel maintains its qualitative military edge over potential threats, and prevent a shift in the security balance of the region. U.S. assistance is also aimed at ensuring for Israel the security it requires to make concessions necessary for comprehensive regional peace.”

(US Aid to Egypt – in part as a further means of supporting Israel!)

At the 30th anniversary celebration of the U.S. aid program last year, the aid given totaled $28 billion, by far the largest amount of development aid given to any country in the world by the United States.

In March 2010, General David Petraeus, then head of US Central Command, said: “Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with governments and peoples in the [region] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world”. The new geopolitical context will force the US administration to make crucial choices, but does it have the will, and ability, to do so?

APPENDIX III: A JEWISH STATE?

Neither the UN, the international community as a whole, nor the Holy See – which insist on Israel’s right to exist and its right to security’, recognise Israel as a Jewish state’.

Netenyahu’s government is nevertheless pressing for it.  With Netanyahu’s backing, the Israeli cabinet voted in support of a loyalty oath for non-Jewish immigrants, which requires allegiance to a “Jewish and democratic state” of Israel. It was as if Mexican immigrants to the United States would have to swear allegiance to a United States that is white and Protestant. In response to an international outcry, notwithstanding silence from American officials, Netanyahu has called for an amendment that would impose the oath on all immigrants, Jewish and non-Jewish alike.

But swearing allegiance to an Israel that is Jewish and democratic is logically inconsistent and an attempt to relegate Palestinian citizens of Israel to inferior status. Palestinian citizens of Israel comprise 20 percent of the population. Netanyahu recently stated, “If the Palestinian leadership will unequivocally say to its people that it recognizes Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, I will be prepared to convene my government and ask for an additional suspension of [settlement] construction for a limited period of time.”

October, 2010:  Patriarch Antonios Naguib, general relator of the synod, and Catholic Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria. Patriarch Naguib: “A country that announces that, within the Middle East and in the Arab and Muslim world, it is the only liberal democracy and civil country, and then makes such a decision and wants to impose swearing fidelity to the Jewish state upon its citizens … where is the logic? I see a conflict here between the announcements of a particular identity on one hand and on the other hand, making decisions and enacting laws against the principle enunciated as an identity of this state.”

110325: A report in La Libre Belgique (not on BBC) of an important double decision by the Knesset:

–    The Law of the Naqba. It will remove any public funding from any institution in Israel that sustains activities ‘undermining the foundations of the state and contradicting its values’: this provision is not restricted to the provocation o hate or armed struggle but also the rejection of Israel as a state of the Jewish people’.  It is aimed specially at the annual commemorations of the Naqba (1948) – held as a counter-balance to the national feast celebrating the foundation of the State of Israel. The original proposal of Avigdor Lieberman’s party had been to specify a prison term of up to three years for such activities. But even the right-wing government found this excessive. Opponents – including many Israeli groups judge that this will remove all right to free expression by Arab Israelis (who are themselves citizens) Academics add that it can never be justified to impose a single ideological view of history.

–    The second law aims to limit the choice of residence for Arab Israelis: The law concerns the Admissions Committees of village communities and towns, to filter new residents according to their ‘way of life’, their socio-economic level; or their ‘lack of adaptation to the sociocultural character of the villages. It forbids direct discrimination ‘uniquely on grounds of race, religion, nationality or physical handicap’. But the criteria of ‘way f life’ and cultural adaptation’ are criteria to vague as to invite discrimination: in this way it legalises a practice that has become normal in recent years, especially in Galilee, where prosperous Jewish villages are virtually closed to Arab Israelis. It is likely that some Israeli associations will take this legislation to the Israeli Supreme Court.

The Notion of the ‘Promised Land’

Some factions on both sides share this. The notion of waqf – that the whole of the territory traversed by Mohammed is reserved as Islamic Land, or that mode of Zionism that believes that the land is ‘promised’ by God for all eternity to Israel. Other Orthodox Jews believe this notion of the Promised Land as a divine political commitment is blasphemous.

Note also the position of some ‘Zionist Christians’. Jesus cannot return till the Holy Land is possessed by the Jews – but then they must accept him or be destroyed. This movement has sometimes been used for propaganda purposes by the GOI, even though the GOI must surely find the Zionist Christian ideology offensive, even repulsive.

APPENDIX IV: DIFFICULTIES OF PA

In February Obama asked PNA president Mahmoud Abbas to withdraw a UN Security Council resolution the PNA had tabled, condemning Israeli settlement building. Abbas refused, marking a hardening of position towards the US.

After the regimes in Egypt and Tunisia fell, the PNA had moved quickly to counter the spreading wave of people power. Al-Jazeera’s release of the leaked “Palestine papers” in January, exposing a relationship between the Palestinian leadership and Israel based on concessions to, and collusion with, the occupation, had already undermined PNA legitimacy. The PNA watched nervously as Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak was forced from office, and adopted a policy of containment. The chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat resigned, Abbas declared there would be presidential and legislative elections by September, and prime minister Salam Fayyad dissolved his cabinet.

On March 16th, Mahmoud Abbas responded to an invitation by Hamas by agreeing to to travel to Gaza to try and end the division between his Fatah party and the Islamist movement Hamas.Mr Abbas has not set foot in Gaza since the violent split in 2007 which left Fatah in power in the West Bank while Hamas was left to run Gaza. The thaw in relations comes after mass demonstrations in several Palestinian cities calling for national unity.

Frank Turner

Talk given at the Chapel of the Resurrection, Brussels

 

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