JERUSALEM (Oct. 14)
While thousands of Christian tourists danced through Jerusalem’s streets during the annual Christian Feast of Tabernacles parade, on the holiday of Sukkot, a group of well-funded neoconservatives were gathering on the other side of Israel’s capital for the first annual “Jerusalem Summit.”
The three-day conference, which ended Tuesday, united right-wing thinkers, activists and journalists primarily from the United States and Israel. Organizers hope the conference will help launch a new umbrella group aimed at providing an alternative to the “road map” peace plan and supporting a harder line against terrorism in Israel.
“The only way to fight terror is without political restraints,” Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said at the meeting. Dismissing the road map, the former Jerusalem mayor said Israel must “decide on a unilateral process — based on what we want.”
The conference was planned to coincide with the Christian celebration of Feast of Tabernacles. Every year, more than 3,000 Christians come to Israel on Sukkot to express their support for the Jewish state and walk in the footsteps of Jesus.
“Jewish people remind the world that they are accountable to God,” Rev. Malcolm Hedding, executive director of the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem, said at the Jerusalem Summit. Hedding’s group, which is staunchly pro-Israel, sponsored the Tabernacle celebrations.
The summit conference underscored the growing ties between evangelical Christians and conservative Jews, and the meeting in Jerusalem included multifaceted representation from the right.
There was Middle East analyst Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum and member of the U.S. Institute for Peace, who advocates resuming peace negotiations when the Palestinians halt terrorism. There was one-time presidential candidate and former U.N. ambassador Alan Keyes, who says Israel should secure its victory over Arab terrorists through military means.
Israeli speakers included Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Tourism Minister Benny Elon and Cabinet member Uzi Landau. Several foreign government officials also were in attendance.
“President Bush missed a unique opportunity to implement the June 24 doctrine,” Pentagon advisor Richard Perle, a member of the National Defense Council, told the audience Tuesday.
“The point of the June 24 speech was that the democratization of the Palestinian side is a precondition, and the road map confuses that,” said Perle, who accepted the conference’s Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson award for strengthening the role of values and vision in politics.
The conference was sponsored by the Michael Cherney Foundation, Israel’s Tourism Ministry and the National Unity Coalition for Israel, which represents 200 Jewish and Christian groups.
Cherney, a Russian businessman and philanthropist who is under investigation in Israel for fraud, started his foundation on June 1, 2001, to help Russian victims and families of the Dolphinarium bombing in Tel Aviv. That bombing, which occurred across the street from Cherney’s office, killed 21 and injured 150, most of them young Russian-speaking immigrants to Israel.
“At some point we realized that we had to fight the root of terrorism, not just aid the victims,” said summit director Dmitry Radyshevsky, the Russian immigrant who heads the Cherney Foundation.
The ideology of the conference, which had been in the planning for a year and a half, could be summed up by its four-point declaration. That declaration said radical Islam is a threat to civilization, the United Nations is a failure, Israel is in need of defense and the war on terrorism is a righteous cause.
Whether the summit represents a new coalition of the right or a one-time event remains to be seen.
“It’s not enough to have money,” one attendee said privately. “You have to have momentum.”
The Bush doctrine, which says force can be used pre-emptively against potential threats, and military responses to terrorism were not the only alternatives presented to the road map.
Elon, head of the Moledet Party, unveiled a plan calling for the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority and recognition of Jordan as the Palestinian state, with West Bank Arabs becoming citizens of the Palestinian state in Jordan.
The Elon Plan was released just as the “Geneva Accord” peace proposal was made public by Israel’s former justice minister, Yossi Beilin, and former Palestinian negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo.
The accord divides Jerusalem, gives the Palestinians control over the capital’s Temple Mount and offers Palestinians a state in the West Bank. In return, the Israeli negotiators say, the Palestinians would give up the “right of return” to Israel for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
Palestinians deny that the document includes concessions on the right of return.
Israeli government officials — and even some members of the opposition — have derided the accord, saying its authors have no right to negotiate on Israel’s behalf.
But the accord invigorated those attending the Jerusalem Summit to explore alternatives to the document.
“What this conference has done is get all the different people who think that peace can be achieved through means other than the Oslo process, to get them together to talk to each other,” Israeli journalist David Bedein said of the summit.
“What this conference does for me is to help me feel that I’m not alone,” novelist Naomi Ragen said.