The Purpose of Their Prayers

The secular right, like the religious right, does not offer a real alternative to the government's efforts to extricate Israel from the continuous confrontation with the Palestinians.

Thousands of people led by former chief rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu gathered on Monday night near the Western Wall and prayed. They did not pray to heal the sick, nor for the soldiers' safety. They did not beg forgiveness for their sins, nor did they take oaths. They gathered near the remnants of the Temple to ask for God's help in causing failure at the Annapolis summit.

The declared intention of the summit is to bring peace to this land. The religious right has its own views on the necessary conditions for peace, and it does not reject aspirations to end the conflict. Nonetheless, thousands on the right rallied to call on God to foil the gathering at Annapolis.

The prayer by the Western Wall brought to the surface the religious element in the opposition to an agreement with the Palestinians. In their prayers, those gathered sought help in countering any threat to divide the land, and their rabbis published a statement saying that "there is a strict religious ban on giving parts of the Land of Israel to foreigners, especially to the Palestinians who are enemies and hate us."

All these halakhic guns were aimed at the meeting in the United States, which is more ceremony than substance, and whose results will only become clear in the future. Nonetheless, the catalog prepared for the summit proved enough to cause the religious right to cry for the Lord's intervention and stir religious passions for a holy war against peace.

Bernard Lewis wrote in the Wall Street Journal this week that the Arabs need to decide whether the conflict with Israel is about its existence or about its size. If it is about its existence, no Israeli government will agree to a deal that would mean the end to Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. If it is about its size, it is a dispute over borders, and this can be resolved through negotiations.

This distinction is also valid for the religious right: When it brings back the national conflict with the Palestinians on a religious platform, it is leading us to a dead end. It is one thing to bargain over security arrangements and the border, and an entirely different thing to fight for our forefathers' claims to the entire country based on religious texts. The approach of the people who met Monday near the Western Wall is a recipe for endless bloodletting.

In addition, the secular right offers no alternative to the renewed effort to restart the peace process with the Palestinians. Indeed, the experience since the Oslo Accords gives Likud and the other parties on the right ammunition in their struggle against further withdrawals from the territories. For example, the way Yasser Arafat behaved after he returned to the territories, and the results of the disengagement are shaping Israeli public opinion on further peace initiatives. The terrorist attacks, the Qassam rockets, Hamas' rise and the Palestinian leadership's treacherous maneuvering are burning into Israelis' consciousness the contribution of their elected leaders to the collapse of the various peace ventures.

Nonetheless, the secular right offers nothing when it opposes the Annapolis summit. It does not offer a real alternative for ending the conflict; it only has empty slogans. Benjamin Netanyahu, for example, wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth yesterday that "there is a different way" (in other words, different from Ehud Olmert's government, which he describes as willing to relinquish assets without gaining anything in return.) Netanyahu is offering to conduct negotiations "resolutely, with determination and pride," and says the conflict's solution is found in "the economic development of the Palestinians who want peace," and by encouraging them "to build stable institutions of governance and justice."

Just as the religious reasoning promises to perpetuate the conflict, the secular right's rhetoric does not offer an end to it. Just as the claim to the whole country in the name of a divine decree turns the conflict with the Palestinians into an insoluble one, the temporal reasoning that begins with the assumption that there is no one to talk to fails to bring the two sides closer to an agreement. The secular right, like the religious right, does not offer a real alternative to the government's efforts to extricate Israel from the continuous confrontation with the Palestinians.