By Natan Sharansky
October 16, 2003
Since the existence of the Geneva initiative was publicly announced on Sunday, there has been much criticism of the process that led to the agreement. Once again the same gang of Oslo blazers – a gang not even elected by an Israeli public, who instead denounced it and kicked it out of government and centers of influence for its “amazing successes” of the past. Once more the same gang is conducting negotiations on its own and committing Israel to far-reaching and irresponsible concessions.
Criticism of the process, although it is correct and justified, is diverting attention from the central and more important contents of the agreement – and primarily from the relinquishing of Jerusalem.
I remember a discussion in the Barak government, even before Camp David, in which Yossi Beilin tried to convince us that if we would only reach “some kind of agreement” on the Temple Mount, and give Palestinians the Christian Quarter of the Old City as well, the longed-for peace would come.
I asked, why the Christian Quarter? What connection do the Palestinians have to the Christian Quarter? Beilin looked at me in surprise and said, what do you care? That’s the Christians’ problem. We’ll achieve peace and let the Christian world worry about freedom of religion and access to its holy places.
At the time I thought that this was a matter of disdain for the values of other nations and cultures. Beilin didn’t mind sacrificing Israel’s relations with the Christian world and risking the access of millions of Christians to places that are the cradle of their religion, so long as we could achieve the longed-for peace. (That assumed the Palestinians would respect religious freedom the way they respect other human rights).
Today, after Camp David, Taba, and now the relinquishing of Temple Mount in the framework of the Geneva accord, I understand that Beilin’s gang are not necessarily contemptuous of the values of other nations, they are contemptuous of all values. Of all, except one that is – peace.
This gang seems to have forgotten, or hasn’t yet understood, that as much as we long and hope for peace, it is not a value that stands by itself. It is an essential condition for the existence of a country that wishes to live, but it isn’t the goal. It was not for the sake of peace that the State of Israel was established, and it was not because of peace that millions of Jews gathered here.
Nor was it peace for which the Jewish people prayed for thousands of years. The Jewish people prayed for Jerusalem. Because of Jerusalem, the Jewish people returned to Israel from the four corners of the earth, for it they were willing to make all the necessary sacrifices. For that same dream of a thousand generations – “next year in rebuilt Jerusalem.”
It should be noted that if we totally relinquish every value for the sake of peace, we won’t have peace either. Just as in the past, this time, too, the Palestinians will interpret such a relinquishing of what constitutes our very identity as a tremendous weakness that calls for war.
The values symbolized by Jerusalem are not only religious in nature. One doesn’t have to be religious to understand that without our historical connection to Jerusalem, without the link to the past, without the feeling of continuity with the ancient kingdoms of Israel for whom the Temple Mount was the center of existence, we really are foreign invaders and colonialists in this country.
One doesn’t have to be religious in order to understand that relinquishing the Temple Mount is a justification of the Palestinian argument: You have no right to exist in this country, you have no connection to it, get out of here. One doesn’t have to be religious in order to understand that relinquishing the Temple Mount is not only relinquishing the past, it is primarily relinquishing the future. The future of all of us, here.
The members of the Hovevei Zion Zionist movement were not religious – they were secular socialists who considered religion a degenerate and sick product of the exile. Despite that they fought with all their might against the Uganda Plan [a 1903 British offer to let the Jews build a homeland in Uganda]. It was clear to them that without a common past, without roots, the Zionist project had no chance of succeeding.
Even today we must understand that without Jerusalem and without our historical roots the Zionist project will not be able to survive. Without Jerusalem Israel will become just another Jewish community, one of many in the world, like that of New York, London or Toronto – except more dangerous, less wealthy and less comfortable. It will not be the center of the Jewish world, not the focus of its existence – just one more community. And if that’s the case, why continue to live in it? For what? In the name of what?