May 15, 2018
MY CORNER by Boyd Cathey
Israel and the Embassy: Success, but Sitting Atop a Volcano?
Yesterday President Trump accomplished one of his well-publicized campaign promises: he moved the American embassy in Israel (previously in Tel Aviv) to Jerusalem. His action came—or should have come—as no surprise. With panoply and ceremony the move was celebrated in Israel; in the United States majority pro-Israeli opinion approved, with choruses of “It’s about time.” After all this action follows what Congress years ago endorsed and most American presidents publicly declared they would do (but, with waivers and the extreme dangers of Middle East diplomacy, did not do).
But through the rejoicing—a goodly portion of it coming from certain quarters of Protestant Evangelical opinion who view God’s promises to Israel, that is, to the Jews of the Old Testament as still in full force and applicable despite the theological fulfillment of those promises in the New Testament in the Person of the Messiah, Jesus Christ—very serious and practical, not to mention political problems remain barely papered over.
The historical claim of millions of Jews that Jerusalem is or has been their ancient capital going back millennia is a strong one. The Old Testament recounts in detail the travails and suffering, the triumphs and the mission of “the People of the Book” to maintain and carry forth the message of God’s love and the eventual redemption of His Chosen People through the future coming of the Messiah. As is clear from an understanding of both the Old and New Testament, that sacred and divine promise was first given to the Chosen People, themselves—they were God’s Chosen, “the light unto the Gentiles,” invested with a unique and special grace.
But as that predilection was very special (and limited), it was also a very delicate matter and could be lost or even forfeited for grave offenses, including apostasy and the turning away from God…although God was always there to receive back His repentant children.
It is in the New Testament where this salvific message of redemption is extended formally to all mankind. Our Lord, himself, proclaimed this universality of His doctrine, and it was His own proclamation identifying Who He is and the why He had come that was finally too much for the Sanhedrin.
A great Jewish Diaspora began in earnest after the final defeat of the Jewish rebellion by one of several supposed messiahs, Simon bar Kokhba, by the Roman legions of the Emperor Hadrian(ca. 132 A.D.). Eventually Jews were dispersed throughout the civilized world, but always with an abiding longing to return to the land that God had originally given them—a return to Judaea and Galilee, to the land that had cradled the great prophets.
And over the centuries at the end of the great Passover Seder and on Yom Kippur the phrase “L'Shana Haba'ah B'Yerushalayim” –“next year in Jerusalem” is sung by Jews worldwide, evoking a constant theme: the desire to return to a reconstituted homeland and a newly rebuilt capital, Jerusalem…and an unshaken memory of the centuries of exile.
The creation of the State of Israel in 1948 was seen by many Jews (but not all) and by many Evangelicals as a kind of fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
Yet, two millennia had brought tremendous changes to the land once occupied by the ancient Hebrews. For 1,500 years those very same lands had been tilled and farmed by many generations of Arabs, some of whom were Christians, descended from those very same Aramaeans first mentioned as converted in the New Testament. (Indeed, one the villages ravaged by American-supported Jihadi Muslims in Syria, Ma’aloula, was inhabited by those people.)
Long before the creation of the “State of Israel” (promised to them by the Balfour Declaration, a pledge made by the English in 1917, eager to garner Jewish support against Ottoman control of Palestine) many poor Jewish refugees from Europe began the trek to the Holy Land. And that immigration only increased after World War II and its genocide and persecution. Here, indeed, were the hopes and dreams of two-thousand years being realized in real time, in our time.
And almost immediately the historical and theologically-based claims of the founders of the State of Israel ran up against the historical and proprietary claims of those people already there on the land, in possession for twenty and thirty generations, themselves.
How to reconcile those claims? Was it possible for two disparate peoples, each with serious claims demanding consideration, to live together within the same disputed territory, and without violent conflict?
Back when I was an undergraduate I had a professor of French, a Dr. Paul Amash, whose Christian family was from Lebanon, but whose mother was a Palestinian (Christian) Arab. On more than one occasion he recounted to me how as a boy he had witnessed a group of Jewish settlers occupy his grandfather’s vineyards in northern Israel and dispossess his family. His mother’s family spent several years in refugee camps before finding safety in Lebanon.
I recall him asking me: “How is it possible to love—to find forgiveness in your heart—when you look from your refugee camp down to a green valley filled with vines and olive trees that once belonged to you, and that has now been seized by foreigners?”
My response was always: “But Dr. Amash, is there no way for peace in the Holy Land? Cannot Jews and Arabs somehow get along? Is there no way?”
Those are the same questions that are still being asked today (I first asked them in 1967).
It is clear and now undisputed fact that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Yes, there are many countries that, for serious diplomatic reasons, do not recognize that. But in fact it is, and it is not going to change, at least any time soon.
But just as Jerusalem is the center for Jews, it also occupies tremendous religious significance for Christians and Muslims, as well. There we find not only the Wailing Wall of such supreme importance to Jews worldwide, but also the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (the site of Our Lord’s crucifixion and tomb), and the Dome of the Rock (where the prophet Muhammed’s supposed Night Journey to Heaven began in 631 A.D.).
Thus the pragmatic, practical and political issues have at their base profound theological questions. And some of those will probably not be resolved until history itself ends.
Over the years there have been countless attempts to “find peace,” to reach some sort of mutually acceptable settlement that would insure justice and equity—as much as possible—to all parties. And over the years, the most hopeful prospects, perhaps ironically, came with efforts by the administration of President Jimmy Carter, working with leaders of Egypt, Israel and the Palestine (Arab) Authority. Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt (occupied during earlier conflict), and attempts were made to find a solution to the occupied West Bank area inhabited by Palestinians (but with multiplying Jewish settlements).
Each effort—and there have been many—has floundered on irreconcilables and the fierce opposition of extremes among all parties.
On a very practical level here are the options:
(1) A two-state solution: which is the de facto objective that more or less exists today, with a Palestinian government with authority over Gaza and the Palestinian areas of the West Bank. The thorniest issues which remain include the recent Israeli settlements that have encroached on Palestinian lands in the West Bank, the status of Jerusalem as a capital not only of Israel but also of Palestine, and the “right of return” for dislocated and dispossessed Palestinians to Israel, plus the full recognition of the legitimacy of the State of Israel by the Arabs. Fifty years of negotiations have gotten us no closer to resolving these questions.
(2) A one state solution, in which Israel would basically annex Gaza and the West Bank into a greater or eretz Israel. While this would, at least superficially, solve some of the issues in the first solution, it would create potentially even graver problems for Israel: how would a Jewish state deal with four million newly-added Palestinian inhabitants? After all citizenship could not be denied them without charges of a vile Apartheid that, given the Palestinian birthrate, could not last without eventual widespread violence and bitter civil war.
The one-state solution, then, while initially attractive, would most likely end in disaster.
Back to the two-state solution:
For many years the Catholic Church and other Christian churches proposed that Jerusalem be an “open city,” that is, an international city which could be both the seat of the Jewish State as well as the capital of Palestine. Already the different religions occupy quarters in the Old City, which go back historically thousands of years. Could both Jews and Palestinians live with that? Certainly, the extremes would reject it—but all other possibilities would appear non-starters.
As to the West Bank and the Jewish settler encroachments on Palestinian lands, a much harder compromise would be required. In return a formal accord of peace and full recognition of Israel (and its boundaries) by the Arabs, could not a farsighted Israeli government (probably not one headed by Benjamin Netanyahu) curtail the settlements and return the possessed West Bank Palestinian land, at least most of it, to its dispossessed owners? Certainly, security considerations and unwieldy borders would have to be considered and adjusted, but above all, good faith—something in short supply—would be the first requirement.
And the right of dispossessed Palestinians to return to land within Israel? Again, at first glance, an irreconcilable issue. Remember the fate of the some thirteen million Germans, East Prussians and Silesians, who were expelled from lands ceded to Poland after World War II; those lands had been inhabited by Germans for one thousand years. Those borders are now settled and those former refugees integrated into German society. After the fall of Communism, at least some few have ventured back into Poland to at least visit…but history has moved on, and historic Breslau is now Wroclaw, and that is not going to change, either, despite the sadness, longing and memory of millions of dispossessed Germans.
So as we observe this very significant event in the history of Israel, the seventy-year old questions remain, and in reality, are not closer to resolution. For decades the leaders on all sides have made attempts, some more valiant or honest than others. The present administration in Jerusalem is headed by a hard-liner, Benjamin Netanyahu, but so was Israel headed by a hard-liner, Menachem Begin, when Israel made peace with Egypt, signing a formal treaty in 1979. Is such a doubtful option possible again?
The issues—political, regional, racial and theological—aren’t going away; they continue with us. And it will be interesting to see if the administration of Donald Trump, if he does wish to get involved, will have any greater success than his predecessors. Or, if the Middle East will continue to simmer, sometimes boil, like an eternal volcano.
Columnist Pat Buchanan offers comments on what just happened and looks at some of these same issues.
Israel at 70: Bibi's Troubled Hour of Power
By Patrick J. Buchanan Tuesday - May 14, 2018
For Bibi Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister save only founding father David Ben-Gurion, it has been a week of triumph. Last Tuesday, President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal as Bibi had demanded. Thursday, after Iran launched 20 missiles at the Golan Heights, Bibi answered with a 70-missile attack on Iran in Syria.
"If it rains on us, it will storm on them. I hope we have finished the episode," Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said, boasting that Israel's raids hit "nearly all Iranian infrastructure in Syria."
The day before, Bibi was in Moscow, persuading Vladimir Putin to cancel the sale of Russia's S-300 air defense system to Damascus.
Yesterday, in an event televised worldwide, the U.S. embassy was transferred to Jerusalem, with Trump's daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner doing the honors in what Bibi called a "glorious day." Few can recall a time when Israel seemed in so favorable a position. The White House and the Republican Party that controls Congress are solidly behind Israel. Egypt is cooperating to battle terrorists in Sinai. Israel has a de facto alliance with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf royals. And the Palestinians have never been more divided, isolated and alone.
Yet, there is another side to this story, also visible this last week.
Those dead and wounded Palestinians are not likely to be forgotten in Gaza. And while Israel has never had so many Arab regimes willing to work with her in pushing back against Iran, Arab League Chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit called the U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem, a "clear violation of international law."
Gheit added: "The fall of Palestinian martyrs by the bullets of the Israeli occupation must ring an alarm ... bell to any state that does not find anything wrong with the immoral and illegal stance that we are watching."
Last week, Hezbollah, which arose in resistance to the 1982 Israeli occupation of Lebanon, and expelled the Israeli army 18 years later, won Lebanon's elections. A Hezbollah-backed coalition will likely form the new government in Beirut.
Michael Oren, Israel's former ambassador to the U.S. and Bibi ally, said that any attack by Hezbollah, which fought Israel to a standstill in 2006, should bring an Israeli declaration of war — on Lebanon.
While Israel launched some 100 strikes on Syria in recent years, Syrian President Bashar Assad has survived and, with the aid of Hezbollah, Iran and Russia, won his civil war.
Assad and his army and allies are far stronger now, while President Trump, Israel's indispensable ally, speaks of bringing U.S. troops home from Syria. In polls, a majority of Americans lines up behind Israel in its clashes, but a majority also wants no more U.S. wars in the Middle East.
Also, Sunday, the U.S. sustained another major political defeat. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi lost his re-election bid. Based on early results, the winning coalition was that of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, against whose forces U.S. troops fought a decade ago. Running second was a ticket led by a Shiite militia general close to Iran. When a new government is formed in Baghdad, the orientation of Iraq seems certain to shift away from the United States.
While the Israelis are the most powerful nation in the region, how long can they keep 2 million Palestinian Arabs confined in the penal colony that is the Gaza Strip? How long can they keep the 2 million Palestinians of the West Bank living in conditions even Israeli leaders have begun to compare to apartheid?
Across the West, especially in universities, a BDS movement to have students, companies and consumers boycott, divest and sanction Israeli-produced products has been gaining ground.
The Palestinians may have been abandoned by Arab rulers and the wider world. Yet, history teaches that people forced to survive in such conditions eventually rise in rebellion and revolution, take revenge, and exact retribution for what was done to them and their own.
Republican leaders often say that we cannot permit "any daylight" between the U.S. position and that of Israel. But can the country that decried for decades the panicked reaction of an Ohio National Guard that shot and killed four students at Kent State University sit silent as scores of unarmed protesters are shot to death and thousands are wounded by Israeli troops in Gaza?
Bibi and Israel appear to be on a winning streak. It is difficult to see how, over the long run, it can be sustained.