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Christian interests are tied up with Israel’s


Upon reading Sr. Miriam Ward’s article, “The myth of Israel’s ‘generous offer’ ” (NCR, March 1), I was saddened by its inaccuracies. Ward’s assumptions appear contrary to Christian teaching and interests.

Ward accepts without evidence a revisionist interpretation of the Camp David negotiations, even though former President Clinton and his envoy, Dennis Ross, have denied that account. On what basis can she validly conclude that the words of the president and his deputy are just “mythology of Israeli propaganda”? She alleges that Israel made an all-or-nothing offer of non-contiguous territory. But negotiations continued at Taba for two months after Camp David, where Ross testified that Israel offered the Palestinians contiguous territory, statehood, 95 percent of the West Bank and Gaza and compensatory land for the 5 percent retained by Israel. In return, Israel demanded Palestinians formally agree to end the conflict. Arafat refused.

Here Ward’s moral reasoning becomes twisted. If Palestinians disagreed with the offer, the correct response was to make a counteroffer and continue negotiations. Instead, the Palestinians left and embraced a strategy of terror against civilians in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. Is there any justification in Catholic moral tradition for rejecting negotiations and sending suicide bombers to intentionally murder children in restaurants?

There are competing narratives regarding Israel/Palestine. Ward accepts the Palestinian and secularist argument that since 1947 Israel has taken Palestinian land. Catholics should critically examine this, for Catholic teaching seems to point in another direction. Paul understood that the Jewish covenant is the root on which Christianity is a branch (Romans11:17-24) and it forms the theological basis for God’s covenant with Christians. Nostra Aetate affirms that God’s covenant with the Jewish people remains valid, and Pope John Paul II has repeatedly taught that Jews are still “the people of God of the Old Covenant, never revoked by God.”

Holy scriptures repeatedly emphasize that an essential part of God’s covenant is Jewish title to what is now Israel and the West Bank. This is at the center of Jewish faith, and the Holy See has asked Catholics “to understand the [Jewish] religious attachment to the land which finds its roots in the biblical tradition” (“Notes on Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church”). Thus Ward’s premise that Israelis are “occupying” Palestinian land undermines both scriptures and Catholic teaching about God’s covenant.

Jews are neither fundamentalist nor absolutist. They understand that Israel cannot keep all the land of the covenant and resolve the conflict. Every Israeli government has pragmatically agreed to sacrifice some of the Jewish covenantal home. In 1948, Israel accepted the U.N. Partition Plan, giving over half of the land of Israel for an Arab state. At the first Camp David settlement with Egypt, Menachem Begin agreed to recognize the legitimate rights of the Palestinians. Ehud Barak offered a Palestinian state, and today Prime Minister Sharon has agreed to a Palestinian state in the final resolution of the conflict.

Arabs have consistently denied Jews any title to the land. In 1947 they rejected the U.N. Partition Plan, and in 1967 they initiated a war to destroy Israel -- before Israel ever “occupied” the West Bank. They rejected both the first and second Camp David compromises. Today Hamas, Islamic Jihad and 87 percent of Palestinians openly declare their aim is to liberate all of Palestine, including pre-1967 Israel.

At Camp David, Arafat claimed that there never was a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. This is the official position of the mufti of Jerusalem and the highest Palestinian Islamic cleric. Christians should understand the import of this denial. It means that Jesus was never in Jerusalem, and the gospels are lies.

Today Christians feel threatened in Nazareth. They rightly understand that militants want to crush Christianity by building a mosque adjacent to the Basilica of the Annunciation and begin a process of eliminating Christian worship and presence in Nazareth. Christians feel about intolerant Moslem designs toward the basilica what Jews have long experienced about eliminationist Arab designs toward Israel.

The denial of Christian legitimacy is obvious today. It is why Christians are not first-class citizens in any Arab country, why they are persecuted in Egypt and Sudan, why Bibles, churches and Christian symbols are forbidden in Saudi Arabia, and why the Christian population in Bethlehem has dropped from 60 percent to 20 percent.

Jews will not give up their covenantal home, nor become minority second-class citizens in Israel -- as Palestinians insist by the “right” of return that would create a second Palestinian state in place of the Jewish homeland. When the Palestinians stop terrorism, negotiations can resume toward a fair compromise that will allow Palestinians to live in their own state. Israelis are committed to this, but they will not commit suicide or sacrifice their right to security to do so.

Arafat claimed that his people would not have accepted the Camp David compromise. This is because he never prepared them for any realistic compromise that would end Palestinian suffering. We should watch for the time when Palestinian leaders prepare their people for real acceptance of Israel with the inevitable sacrifices that a fair settlement will bring. That will be the beginning of Arab acceptance of Judaism and Christianity in the Middle East.

Eugene Korn is director of interfaith relations at the Anti-Defamation League, New York City.

National Catholic Reporter, April 26, 2002