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Bibi Sets the Tone

protretAccording to the June 14th speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu, there are certain “red lines” that Israel will not cross in pursuing peace with its Arab Palestinian neighbours.
(Full text of  address)

Condensed into a few points (with comments):

Israel must be secure. The security argument is based generally upon two needs: 1) That all of Israel’s borders must be defensible; and 2) That any eventual Palestinian state not be permitted to have a standing army or be able to conclude defensive pacts or military alliances with other countries – Iran was specifically mentioned by name because it arms and otherwise supports such groups as Hezbollah and Hamas.

This doesn’t mean that the Palestinian state will be prohibited from having internal security services adequate to the maintenance of order within its territory — in fact, the Palestinian Authority has largely been armed by Israel and the United States.

Beyond Palestine’s imagined borders would rest Jordan, Egypt and, of course, Israel. If any future peace agreement contained commitments by each of these countries to defend Palestine from external attack, why would the young state want to bear the expense of maintaining an army?

Israel must primarily be a Jewish state
, with freedom of religion for all faiths. This touches upon an important demographic requirement: That the Palestinian refugee problem be settled outside of Israel proper (i.e. within the future borders of a Palestinian state).

Aside from the social and economic chaos that would result if Israel (a very small country) was forced to absorb literally millions of Palestinian refugees, there is also a politically existential angle; since Israel is a democracy, it would be exposed to the very real risk of voting itself out of existence.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak implied that no Arab country would ever recognise Israel as a Jewish state, being situated as it is, so close to the heart of the Islamic world. This could be seen as somewhat hypocritical since Egypt does recognise more than a half dozen countries that are officially Islamic states, as well as sixteen nations (plus itself) which have officially adopted Islam as their state religion.

Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of Israel.
Jews feel and think about Jerusalem in somewhat the same way that Muslims feel about Mecca. Muslims have prayed facing in the direction Mecca for about 1400 years. Jews have been praying towards Jerusalem since Solomon’s edict to do so — almost 3000 years ago.

Though most of the region’s inhabitants were used to praying while facing Jerusalem (most of them being Jews or early Christians who also maintained the established practice), Mohammed issued an edict requiring that all Muslims pray in the direction of Mecca. Ironically, Mecca was itself established and controlled by the Jewish Quraish tribe for centuries prior to the arrival of Mohammed.

Jerusalem is central to the identity of the Jews and is foremost, of all earthly places, in their prayers. Unlike Mecca, though, anyone (of any religion) may visit Jerusalem. The city is mentioned by name more than 600 times in the Torah (the five books of Moses or Pentateuch) and almost 800 times in the larger assembly of books recognised as the Jewish Bible (Tanakh). In the Christian New Testament, it is mentioned by name 154 times. Jerusalem is not mentioned by name even once in the Qur’an.

Under Israeli stewardship, religious tourism and pilgrimages are possible to virtually all Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, but also to all those within Israel proper and throughout a substantial proportion of the West Bank. Such was not the case when the West Bank was under Jordanian rule; all Jews were expelled from their Jerusalem homes in 1948-49 and were unable to return until 1967. Also, during this period, most Jewish houses of worship and a number of shrines sacred to Judaism were destroyed.

The area of greater Jerusalem, beyond the walls of the Old City, is predominantly Jewish in the West and mostly Arab in the East. There are many Jews living in East Jerusalem and many Arabs residing in West Jerusalem, which would make it difficult to divide the city while preserving its character and its ability to function as a municipality. The Palestinians consider the Old City (which contains the Temple Mount, Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, to name a few of its most important holy sites) to rest entirely within East Jerusalem, which they envision to be the capital of their future state. The Old City also contains its own historical Jewish Quarter, Armenian Quarter, Christian Quarter and Muslim Quarter — in chronological order of establishment.

East and West Jerusalem as they are defined on political maps are artificial constructs of man’s own design. The East and the West of Jerusalem, and for that matter, the North and the South of it, can only truly be judged in relation to the Rock that lies at the very heart of it.

Remarkably, the Old City occupies barely more than one-third of one square mile of land!


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