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Jewish World Review Jan. 7, 2000 /28 Teves, 5760

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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The ‘Peace Bug’
Strikes Home

Forget about Y2K, a new virus is about to short circuit the old Jewish consensus -- THE EXPECTATIONS that every computer in the world would spontaneously combust on Jan. 1 were not met. The so-called Y2K bug proved to be a bust.

Survivalists and the millions who secretly were hoping for a general disaster just so they wouldn’t have to come to work on Monday were bitterly disappointed.

But while the advent of the third millennium according to the secular calendar seems to have changed nothing in our lives, another sort of millennial bug is in the works and it is in the process of messing up part of the faith structure of the organized Jewish world.

The computers used by Jewish organizations may not be malfunctioning, but a lot of the people who sit in front of them may soon be looking glassy-eyed and aimlessly repeating, “This does not compute,” like the robot on the old TV-show “Lost in Space.”

Why? Let’s call it the “peace bug.”

The “peace bug” is the process by which the being created on the ground in the Middle East by the Israeli government conflicts so greatly with the accepted wisdom of American Jewish life that a lot of American Jewish leaders are going to be hard-pressed to know what to say about them.

Most of us were weaned on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s classic text “Myths and Facts About the Middle East,” which cogently made the case for Israeli control of the Golan Heights and an undivided Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty. But given the events that are currently unfolding, you may as well throw your copy of “Myths and Facts” into the proverbial circular file.

It is time to wake up to the fact that Ehud Barak’s government is not singing along with chorus and the traditional text. Elected on a platform that called for speeding up the peace process, and convinced that reaching agreements with both the Palestinians and the Syrians is the national priority, Barak is changing the shape of traditional pro-Israel arguments as well as changing the map.

Barak has gone to Shepherdstown, W. Va., with the intention of giving back the Golan Heights to Syria. The only question — other than the always real possibility that the Syrians won’t take yes for an answer — is whether the new border will correspond to the 1923 boundaries set between British Palestine and French Syria or the 1949 armistice lines. Either way, the 18,000 Jews of the Golan will be booted out and the Syrians will be back on the heights.

The mantra about the importance of the Golan to security that had been drilled into the heads of every American Jew who has visited the plateau — as well as countless members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate — is now moot. Israel, we are told, can live without the Golan. Provided, of course, that the U.S. forks over tens of billions of dollars.

Similarly and even more shockingly for the sensibilities of American Jews, in the course of the final status talks with the Palestinians, changes in the status of Jerusalem are also in the making.

In the Jan. 2 issue of Ha’aretz, Israel’s left-leaning mainstream daily, writer Nadav Shragai reports that the already negligible Israeli investment in Arab neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem has been frozen under Barak. Combined with news leaks from the negotiators that revealed that Israel is talking with the Palestinian Authority about granting it “civilian control” of these same Arab neighborhoods as part of a final status accord, and Shragai comes to the conclusion that the government “is effectively talking about partitioning the city, if not today, then tomorrow.”

Is he nuts? Not if one considers that the P.A. has been more than a clandestine presence in Jerusalem for years. Its Orient House headquarters has been a magnet for European diplomats. During the administration of Barak’s predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israelis paid lip service to the idea of shutting the place down. But Bibi was never really serious about enforcing Israeli sovereignty there if it meant a violent confrontation.

Netanyahu campaigned in both 1996 and 1999 on the theme that Labor would divide Jerusalem. It looks like Barak will vindicate that slogan, but the truth is Netanyahu did little to prevent it himself. Netanyahu’s Jerusalem policy consisted of chest-thumping about the indivisibility of the city combined with indifference to actual Palestinian inroads on Israeli sovereignty.

During his term, Israeli diplomats would occasionally step up their public Jerusalem offensives by imploring Jewish editors like myself to redouble their efforts to combat the Arab plan to divide the city. My answer to that was simple: If the Israeli government wants to kick the P.A. out of Jerusalem, they had my support. But what did they expect American scribblers to do about the situation when the Israelis themselves were unwilling to do anything about it?

Even worse than the civilian control issue is that the P.A. security apparatus has also been operating openly in the city. Shragai points out that so-called “civilian control,” the term used to describe the status of much of the territories — with Israel supposedly in charge of security while the P.A. runs the civilian infrastructure — is a sham. There is nothing to differentiate Abu Dis, the Jerusalem suburb that is supposedly only under the civilian control of the P.A., from those areas where the Palestinians have full control.

Barak has now gone Bibi one better. As Shragai put it, “instead of fighting against [Palestinian] parallel governmental systems already operating in East Jerusalem, Israel is planning to institutionalize them partially or fully. Instead of removing the Palestinian security units from the city [as Netanyahu pretended to do], they are becoming a legitimate partner even in Israel’s capital.”

Last month’s story about the the Israeli government’s decision to ignore the actions of the Wakf — the Muslim authority that governs the Temple Mount — reinforces Shragai’s conclusion.

The Wakf destroyed some ancient structures in the course of unauthorized excavations and then dumped the material, including artifacts, like garbage. They demonstrated that they — and the P.A. which appoints their leadership — rule on the Temple Mount without fear of violating Israeli law or Jewish sensibilities.

Will all this happen? Nothing is certain, but everything points towards just such a conclusion. The opposition to Barak is virtually leaderless. Unless someone like Natan Sharansky — who is critical of the way the peace process is proceeding but is still sitting in Barak’s cabinet — steps forward, the vision of Israeli peace gurus like Yossi Beilin will be vindicated.

Of course, all of this violates everything that every Israeli government — Labor or Likud — has ever told American Jewry or the U.S. government. The Israelis will adjust. The question is, will American Jews be able to turn on a dime and sing the new song?

Some American Jews will protest and urge Congress not to ante up the tens of billions required to pay for these agreements. They will have the right to do so even if it is an unpopular stand. Some of us may be willing to be more Zionist than the State of Israel, but few Americans are prepared to assume such an untenable position.

Before you hyperventilate over the coming reality, it’s important to remember one thing. No matter how strongly American Jews may feel about these issues, this is, in the end, an Israeli decision.

Which means, if the Israeli government agrees to deals that make these concessions and the Israeli people ratify these agreements either through referendums or new Knesset elections, American Jews are going to have to live with it.

The rest of us will just have to cope with a new reality that says Jerusalem is the eternal divided capital of Israel. Our brains won’t explode, but somehow, it just won’t sound right.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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© 2000, Jonathan Tobin