Holy Land Easter 2002

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– March 29, 2002

On the first Holy Thursday, the night before He was crucified, Jesus sat down with the 12 and turned water and wine into his own flesh and blood. That first Last Supper was a Jewish seder.

This is the communal meal to commemorate the Passover, the night when the Angel of Death passed over the homes of the Jews – who had marked their doors with the blood of a lamb – and went on to destroy the firstborn son of every Egyptian including pharaoh’s own. After that first Passover, the Jews, led by Moses, fled Egypt for the Promised Land. And so the night is commemorated.

On the eve of this Holy Thursday, as Jews sat down to a seder at a resort hotel in the seaside town of Netanya, the Angel of Death did not pass over. A suicide bomber ignited his explosives. Twenty died, and 130 were wounded. And as this Holy Week concludes, the hearts of many Jews are turned to revenge, as others surrender to despair. Is there no way out of a war to the death in the Holy Land?

Israelis today must be asking themselves: How can we live in peace beside people who celebrate this Passover massacre? Why should we give up the West Bank, Gaza or any land to people whose leaders celebrate such atrocities? As for Arafat, at worst, they say, he orders such massacres. At best, he is powerless to prevent them. Either way, what is the argument for going back to borders less defensible than those we have now?

Palestinian hatred is also understandable. Their fathers were dispossessed of their lands and driven into exile by strangers. They have been held hostage under a harsh occupation for decades by Israelis who are settling the last lands of Palestine, denying them the right to live in dignity and freedom in their own country.

Palestinians have lost three times as many dead and 30 times as many wounded in this Intifada. Israelis contend there is a moral difference between Jewish innocents massacred by suicide bombers and Arab innocents killed as the unintended consequence of Israeli tank or gunship attacks, but these are not distinctions one would be anxious to press on the husbands of dead Arab women or the fathers of dead Palestinian children.

Is there no way out?

In Beirut, the Arab nations have signed on to a Saudi peace plan in which President Bush seems to place some hope: Arab recognition of Israel, in return for withdrawal from all the lands taken in the Six-Day War of 1967 – the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Old City – plus the right of return of Palestinian refugees to Israel.

Two years ago, Prime Minister Barak offered Syria 99 percent of the Golan Heights, and the Palestinians 95 percent of Gaza and the West Bank, and a sovereign presence in Jerusalem, with Islamic control of the holy places of the faith inside the Old City.

While there is a deep divide between what the Arabs demanded in Beirut and what Barak offered at Camp David, the two plans do not seem wholly unbridgeable, if the alternative is a war to the death.

But Prime Minister Sharon has withdrawn Barak’s offer. And the Saudi plan calls for concessions no Israeli prime minister could make and survive – i.e., surrender of all of East Jerusalem and return to Israel of millions of Arab refugees who would change the ethnic and religious character of the Jewish state.

Nevertheless, with the Saudis having put on the table the Arab conditions for peace, and most Arab states having signed on, Ariel Sharon should be asked to do the same. What is Israel prepared to give up in return for peace with its Arab neighbors? What guarantees will Israel need that an Arab “peace” is not prelude to yet another Intifada or yet another Arab-Israeli war?

It seems imperative that President Bush get answers to these questions before investing enormous amounts of his time trying to resolve this conflict. Is this an irreconcilable conflict? Are the bottom-line demands of each side intolerable to the other?

If so, let us find out. Knowing a terrible truth is better than holding on to a vain hope. If, for example, Sharon is determined to hold onto more of the West Bank than Barak was willing to give up, if he is unwilling to give up any sovereign space in East Jerusalem, if he is unwilling to even address a right of return for a symbolic number of refugees, we have a conflict that will likely be settled only by blood and only with the total defeat of one side or the other.

The president who has welcomed the Saudi plan ought to put forward The American Plan. What does the president believe would be a just resolution of the conflict? Compared to the enormous cost of what is going on in the Holy Land, what comparable risk would he be taking, if he simply laid America’s cards face up on the table?

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