Obama, Netanyahu, and Zionists Against Occupation

The Palestinians will be able to survive the occupation. A healthy state of Israel will not.

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ROME - It occurred to me while leaving St. Peter in Chains.

I decided to do the very last thing the Jewish People needs: start a new Jewish organization.

The inspiration was the unassuming but sublime church of San Pietro in Vincoli [St. Peter in Chains]. Tucked into a back corner of the city, it is home to Michelangelo's monumentally wistful marble of Moses.

There is no more perfect representation of the contemporary Zionist enterprise than that of this first of all Zionist ideologues - the melancholy language of the sculpture's eyes and clenched sinews a simultaneous translation of betrayal, disillusion, ire and the clutch of hope against all better judgment.

This is the Basilica of the Displaced Person. No one is more displaced than this prince who cannot feel at home in his native Egypt, but who will forever be denied entry to that promised place he knows he belongs.

By the Renaissance, Moses' truncated fate extended to the sculpture itself, stuck here for 500 years in a well-tended purgatory, a permanent Diaspora, far less grand if perhaps far better suited than the one - the much better-known St. Peter's across town - originally offered to, and snatched away from, Michelangelo.

What better time, then, to think about promised lands?

In particular, what better time to think about what separates Israel from a future of genuine calm and confidence?

This is, after all, the bedrock challenge facing Benjamin Netanyahu as he scrambles to cobble together a foreign policy.

This is also a key challenge for Barack Obama as he lays the groundwork for an ambitious regional solution to a brace of Arab-Israeli and pan-Muslim conflicts.

When the two meet in the coming weeks, the press will watch closely for nuances in terminology, and concessions from one side or another over the nature of a future Palestinian state.

So what can a cold marble Moses tell the rest of us about a course of action and a path toward peace?

This is what I took away from St. Peter in Chains, and a prophet of Judaism, Islam and Christianity holding tablets close to the vest: Jews have to end the occupation for the sake of Zionism.

Herewith, then, a manifesto of one. The founding document of Zionists Against Occupation:

1. Thou Shalt Not Have Other Gods Before Me.

2. Thou Shalt Not Make For Thyself an Idol

3. Thou Shalt Not Bow Down to Them

4. Thou Shalt Not Use the Lord's Name in Vain

It is time to acknowledge that the settlements are the Golden Calf of the current generations of believing Jews.

The settlements have made much of Orthodoxy delirious with worship of property, even some elements of Orthodoxy who refrain from fully recognizing the legitimacy of the state of Israel. They have tried to make settlement synonymous with Zionism, even when settlement conflicts with Israel's strategic and diplomatic interests.

It is time to recognize that settlement of the West Bank is a commandment which came not from God, but from rabbis, which is to say, all too often, from politicians.

5. Thou Shalt Not Steal, Nor Covet That Which Is Your Neighbor's.

6. Thou Shalt Not Murder.

7. Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother, So That Your Days May Be Long in the Land that the Lord your God is Giving You.

Both the Jews and the Palestinians have valid claims to the Holy Land. If the Holy Land is to be shared, Israelis and Palestinians both will have to sacrifice legitimate grievances for the sake of a livable future, one which honors ancestors by making it possible for children to grow and thrive.

Finally, and most importantly, it is time for Jews to recognize how lethal the occupation is, to the idea of maintaining a Jewish state.

When right-wing Jews say that all of the Holy Land, the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel proper, belongs to the Jews alone, they are in effect de-legitimizing Israel. They are adding fuel to the arguments of Hamas, which views all of Israel, West Jerusalem, Haifa, and Sderot alike, to be occupied Arab land.

In the end, the question of whether Israel will be a Jewish state will not depend on what the Palestinians say, but on what the Jews do.

8. Thou Shalt Not Be Silent.

9. Thou Shalt Not Look Away.

10. Thou Shalt Use the Word Occupation

It is time to follow Ariel Sharon's example and call the occupation what it is. It is time for Zionists to stand up and declare strong support for Israel and strong opposition to the occupation. Not for the sake of the Palestinians. For Israel's sake.

"Controlling 3.5 million Palestinians cannot go on forever," Sharon told a weekly meeting of stunned Likud leaders, Netanyahu among them, in May, 2003. "You want to remain in Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah and Bethlehem?"

"The idea that it is possible to continue keeping 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation - yes, it is occupation, you might not like the word, but what is happening is occupation - is bad for Israel, and bad for the Palestinians, and bad for the Israeli economy," Sharon said.

If the last 40 years are any indication, the Palestinians will be able to survive the occupation. A healthy state of Israel will not.

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