Choose between peace or apocalypse

Settlements must not stand in the way of an end to the Arab-Israel conflict.

settlement 298.88 (photo credit:
settlement 298.88
(photo credit:
For those who continue to press for actualization of the promise of Annapolis - in the face of a host of obstacles, most recently the dreadful escalation of hostilities in and around Gaza and Sderot - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's declaration a few weeks ago, freezing all new construction in all West Bank settlements, was a welcome if overdue development. The Israeli government's reluctance to implement this integral element of the agreed-upon road map promptly post-Annapolis had threatened to derail the barely nascent peace process. The announced freeze provides a needed demonstration of good faith from Israel, and should be coupled with, among other confidence-building measures, another difficult but essential road map requirement: evacuation of all settlement outposts established since 2001. Meanwhile, on the Palestinian side, efforts at improving security and bolstering civil order in the West Bank have begun, including deployment of a strengthened PA security force in Nablus and Tulkarem; this activity, including, of course, work on suppressing attacks against Israelis, must continue and intensify. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the Prime Minister's announcement did not enjoy unanimous approval. Hundreds of thousands of settlers populate the more than 100 settlements and an almost equal number of outposts in the West Bank, despite their asserted illegality under international law and UN resolutions. As of a few months ago, according to Peace Now, active construction was ongoing in 88 settlements and 10 outposts. Among those openly distressed by the announced construction freeze is Ron Nachman, mayor of the Ariel settlement that penetrates deep into the West Bank, north of Ramallah. Ariel's population has markedly increased in recent years, to almost 20,000. Many residents believe that God has given them the right to remain there. On January 24 Haaretz reported that, at a recent Ariel city council emergency meeting, Mayor Nachman declared "an open war by the town of Ariel and its residents against the government of Israel and its head, Ehud Olmert." It's likely that Ariel's allies in any "war" it wages against the government will include one of its key supporters, Christians United for Israel. Led by Reverend John Hagee, this evangelical Christian Zionist organization offers support to settlements like Ariel, based at least in part on its view that the Bible prohibits the relinquishment of even one square inch of the now-occupied ancient Judea and Samaria. As many in the Christian Zionist movement see it, peace with the Palestinians is impossible; rather, they view Jewish dominion over all of historic Palestine as a necessary prelude to a highly-anticipated end-of-days scenario, foretold in the Book of Ezekiel, featuring a massive conflagration in the Middle East, the eventual return of Jesus to a final battle at Armegeddon, and the casting of non-believers into a lake "of fire burning with brimstone" as Jesus' reign begins. Reverend Hagee has proclaimed that "we are racing toward the end of time," and many eagerly await that moment. In the view of many Christian Zionists, a peace process that includes the return of any part of the occupied Palestinian territory would compromise God's plan, incur His wrath, and must vigorously be resisted. Christian Zionists are, of course, fully entitled to enjoy whichever belief system they choose, as are Mayor Nachman and other residents of Ariel. But when those theological views are applied so as to actively impede much-needed movement toward a just and lasting peace in the region, they can be dangerous and potentially catastrophic. The evacuation of most of the settlements - consistent with a model like that provided by Yossi Beilin's Geneva Accords, and as part of a process leading to a secure Israel as a Jewish homeland, and a politically and economically viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza - will clearly be necessary if there is to be any hope for peace. It will be painful and even excruciating for some, but it can be done, and must be supported. Surely, for the sake of future generations that might not share a hope for the "end of times," this option is far preferable to the alternative, prophesied or not. The writer is an attorney and president of Boston Workmen's Circle, a 100-year old Jewish communal organization committed to promoting social justice and the celebration of Jewish/Yiddish culture.