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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

May 18, 2003

Crossing Jordan

The Exit That Isn't on Bush's 'Road Map'

The New York Times (free reg. req'd.) posts this alternative Road to peace in Middle East. If you were a Jordanian, how would you feel about this? If pro-Israeli, how do you feel about this?
The Bush administration argues that the defeat of Saddam Hussein has provided a chance to end the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and that only the eventual creation of a Palestinian state can accomplish that.

Benyamin Elon, a minister in the Israeli government of Ariel Sharon, agrees. But, reviving a vision long cherished by Israel's religious and secular hawks, he argues that the new Palestinian state must be Jordan.

This is the "window of opportunity," he says, for Israel to annex at last the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. If the Bush administration has the courage to abandon "clichés" about land for peace, he argues, it can now achieve a "long-term, spiritual earthquake" in the Middle East.

Mr. Elon's vision has new punch because of the strengthening alliance between those Jews who favor a Greater Israel and conservative Christians in the United States who are moved by the same ancient dream, based on what evangelicals call the "Abrahamic covenant."

And Israeli politicians, including Prime Minister Sharon, are well aware of that alliance as they consider their response to President Bush's new drive for peace. In fact, the religious nationalism that Mr. Elon embraces so tightly appears to be gaining adherents faster in the United States than in Israel.

Mr. Elon's view evokes basic questions of the meaning of the Jewish state. It makes explicit what some believers of many creeds — though not the Bush administration — say is the real subtext of the war on terrorism: that it is a battle between Judeo-Christian and Islamic values, beliefs and territorial ambitions.

Referring to Palestinians, Mr. Elon said, "We can force them to understand it — and they will understand it — that we are the children of Israel that came back to the land of Israel."

Prime Minister Sharon rebuked Mr. Elon for pushing his plan in Washington while the Israeli government was officially reviewing the approach Mr. Bush backs. Yet Mr. Sharon, who is to meet with President Bush this week, invited along a minister allied with Mr. Elon, as well as other members of his government, when he met with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell last Sunday.

Mr. Sharon's goal, one of his advisers said, was to demonstrate to Mr. Powell how much resistance he will face if he follows the "road map" favored in Washington, a plan that envisions a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza in just three years. Mr. Sharon has serious objections to that plan and wants to change it.

Mr. Bush, on the other hand, has endorsed the road map. But if the president demands that Israel immediately begin to carry it out, as Palestinians have asked, he is almost certain to face objections from a key constituency, Christian conservatives.

"You're much more likely to hear a person from the Christian right say that all of Israel belongs to the Jews than many Israeli politicians, including on the Israeli right," said Gershom Gorenberg, author of "The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount." "Congress is full of people who reflect this kind of thinking."

Jordan rejects Mr. Elon's plan, and the Bush administration appears chilly to it.

As Israel's minister of tourism, Mr. Elon, an eloquent, cheerful exponent of his cause, went to the United States this month to drum up visitors and to promote his ideas among congressmen and devout Christians — two groups that, not coincidentally, supply some of the hardiest tourists here.

On his trip, Mr. Elon met with Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, who has referred to the West Bank by the Biblical names of Judea and Samaria.[more]