This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
The interfaith dialogue on Israel/Palestine, I took part in last week in Vienna was stilted. Though the audience turnout was good and the day conference preceding the evening panel was serviceable, I felt we had returned to the 1980s. The photos of the event show how bored I was. Nothing remotely relevant to the dire situation in the (un)Holy Land was offered.
My contribution to the conference was set in motion the day before when I visited Viola Raheb, a Palestinian theologian in her own right and the sister of Mitri Raheb, a pastor with a politically conscious ministry in Bethlehem, Palestine. Indeed, my discussion with Viola was earthshaking. She shared her thoughts about Palestinian land, life and leadership during the last few years. We then discussed the return of the Jordanian option as the almost inevitable end to the current peace negotiations.
By Jordanian option, I mean an agreement signed by the Palestinian Authority, Israel and Jordan – with the United States as the guarantor – that effectively gives Jordan governing authority over the West Bank and certain religious sites in Jerusalem. Palestinians will be granted autonomy in the West Bank. Alongside Israel, Jordan’s military will patrol the (highly militarized) demilitarized borders of this newly configured entity. Meanwhile the major Israeli settlements remain intact under Israeli governmental and military control. In return, Palestinians gain some land in the Negev. There might be some symbolic space for Palestine and Jordan in East Jerusalem. Abu Dis becomes Palestinian Jerusalem with or without the Jerusalem nameplate.
However such an end to the Israel-Palestinian conflict is referred to – call it realistic politics or unconditional surrender – the result remains: Israel conquers Palestine – permanently. It erases any claims that Palestinians have within Israel/Palestine. BDS calls are eviscerated, including the recent European Union attempt to separate Israel from its further colonial expansion through trade and intellectual cooperation restrictions.
Palestine is effectively removed from the world justice agenda. The international legal arena suffers the same fate.
Is anyone listening?
The possibility of such a signing hit me hard. I could hardly catch my breath. On the day I left Vienna, I was informed by Mustafa Abu Sway, a well-connected Palestinian Muslim academic and a fellow interfaith dialogue panel member, that President Abbas had agreed to speak to the Israeli Knesset and that his appearance might be imminent.
Abbas in Jerusalem would be akin to Anwar Sadat’s visit after the October 1973 war but with a twist. Sadat came to Jerusalem with the claim of a military stalemate with Israel and a symbolic triumph that was significant for Egyptian pride. No matter the rhetoric, Abbas comes to Jerusalem hat in hand. Palestine continues to disappear under his leadership. One of the few claims Abbas can make is that he and others in the Palestinian Authority – a governing body that few in the world respect – have survived.
I asked Viola what she as a Palestinian would want me as a Jew to speak or write about this. If, in fact, the Palestinian Authority was willing to cede Palestine and the permanent ghettoization of her people for paved roads and improved employment, what did she think a Jew like me ought to be thinking.
I was serious. After all, though I have struggled within the prophetic tradition of my own people, for all practical purposes the Palestinian Authority signing on the dotted line means the end of the Jewish struggle. The explosion of the Jewish prophetic over Palestine – which represents a final “no” to the ultimate assimilation of Jews to unjust power – loses its base of operation.
Still in exile, and deeper still, Jews of Conscience will be adrift. For generations to come the Jewish prophetic will lie dormant. It might never return.
If the world doesn’t think it will miss the prophetic in its distinctly Jewish embodiment the world isn’t isn’t thinking very deeply on the subject.
The people at the Vienna conference weren’t ready to think the end. On all sides, including Palestinian intellectuals in the West, our investment in refusing the inevitable result – that the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem and the West Bank is permanent – is massive. While criticizing the American, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators for their investment in the peace process, the Left, including Jews of Conscience, has a similar investment.
What happens after the permanent occupation is acknowledged and signed is the unasked question of all parties involved.
Jews of Conscience must begin to ask this question as if the final notice of (prophetic) foreclosure is already in the mail. It might arrive tomorrow.