Can This Man Save Israel?

How the resurgence of Likud may actually hasten the division of Jerusalem.
From the November 2007 Trumpet Print Edition

My father stated on television in January 2006 that Benjamin Netanyahu might return to power in Israel. Two months later, his Likud party got trounced in parliamentary elections. Its 38 seats in the 120-seat parliament got slashed to just 12.

Today, however, Likud has revived—and Netanyahu, judging by recent public opinion polls, is first in line to succeed Ehud Olmert as Israel’s next prime minister.

How close are we to a rightward shift in Israeli politics? And should that happen, how will it impact the status of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the Jewish state?

More Concessions Offered

No political party in Israel has ever obtained a simple majority of seats in the Knesset (61). The party with the most seats, however, forms a majority rule by coalescing with enough parties to maintain control. Olmert’s Kadima-led government consists of a five-party coalition—Kadima (29 seats), Labor (19), Shas (12), Yisrael Beiteinu (11) and Gil Pensioners (7)—totaling 78 seats. Israel’s next parliamentary election isn’t scheduled until March 2010. But if Kadima’s coalition breaks up before then, it would force early elections.

Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capital city is one critical issue now testing the strength of Olmert’s government. Just before the Knesset began its winter session, Olmert’s top deputy, Haim Ramon, proposed packaging Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem within a future Palestinian state. Regarding the Old City, Ramon suggested a “special regime” be responsible for managing the holy sites. Israel, he said, would retain control over the Jewish quarter and the Western Wall, as well as other Jewish holy sites.

The prime minister followed up on Ramon’s proposal by telling parliament that he would not “look for excuses to block peace efforts” (Associated Press, October 9). He said Israel would have to give up some of its “deepest desires” to obtain peace.

Predictably, Palestinians reacted to these enormous concessions by demanding much more. “We are talking about full control” over the Old City, said Adnan al-Husseini, an aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas—including the Wailing Wall (New York Sun, October 12). President Abbas followed that up by demanding a full Israeli withdrawal from all territory acquired during the 1967 war. “We have 6,205 square kilometers in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip,” Abbas said in an interview with Palestine tv. “We want it as it is” (Associated Press, October 10).

As it is, of course, half a million Jews reside in those “occupied” territories. It would be like the Gaza disengagement 50 times over. It’s no wonder Olmert’s approval ratings are so low—and Benjamin Netanyahu’s are on the upswing.

Netanyahu’s Angry Reaction

Olmert’s plan for re-dividing Jerusalem has sharply divided members of the Knesset, as highlighted by Netanyahu’s parliamentary speech on October 8. “According to the government’s plan,” he said, “Israel will withdraw to the 1967 lines, hand over half of Jerusalem to the Palestinians and relinquish Israeli control over the holy sites in the city. Let there be no confusion—this is the plan. All attempts to disguise it are futile.”

He pointed to Israel’s most recent retreats as proof that withdrawing further would have disastrous results. Leaving Lebanon and Gaza enabled Iran to set up bases on Israel’s northern and southern frontiers. “And now,” said Netanyahu, “the government plans a further withdrawal in Judea and Samaria—a move that will inevitably create in the center of the country a third Iranian base that will threaten Jerusalem and the entire coastal plain. These three tentacles of the Iranian octopus will thus envelop Israel from every side!”

Later, Netanyahu asked, “How many times is it possible to repeat the same blunder, to proceed with the same blindness? … The government concedes everything in advance. It erodes Israel’s positions in any future negotiation—and gets nothing in return. This is not how you negotiate! This is not how you make peace! But the government contends that by offering these far-reaching concessions, it is strengthening the moderates and weakening the extremists. The opposite is true.

How true that is! And yet, succumbing to pressure from the U.S. State Department and from left-wingers in the Labor Party, Olmert forges ahead with his suicidal mission of helping build a terrorist state bordering Israel on every side! But there is a political price: If he pushes too hard with his appeasement proposals, right-leaning members of his coalition might jump ship.

This is exactly what Netanyahu is angling for. “I ask you, my friends in Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu,” Netanyahu said in his speech, “What are you doing in this government? Do you really agree with a policy that would have Hamas rule over neighborhoods in Jerusalem? … You are not preventing the danger by sitting in the government. On the contrary, you are giving legitimacy to a dangerous initiative and allowing it to happen.”

Between them, conservatives in Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu fill 23 seats in Olmert’s coalition. If they left, the coalition would suddenly be in the minority.

“If you are tired, step aside,” Netanyahu said—a not-so-subtle reference to Olmert’s infamous “we are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous” comment shortly before becoming prime minister. “If the government has stopped believing in the justice of our cause,” Netanyahu concluded, “if it is weary of standing up to our enemies—it must do one thing: Go to the people and set a date for elections.”

Besides the status of Jerusalem, Olmert is feeling heat on other fronts. He is currently undergoing three criminal investigations, which is unprecedented in Israel’s history as a state. Added to that, when the Winograd Commission releases its final report on Olmert’s mishandling of last summer’s war in Lebanon (which the commission has promised by year’s end), some insiders have speculated that Labor Party Chairman Ehud Barak may remove his party from the coalition in an attempt to topple the government.

So Netanyahu may get his wish for new elections sometime in 2008. And if he does, he may well become Israel’s next prime minister.

If that happens, will his hard-line stance save Jerusalem?

Recycling Failure

If Prime Minister Olmert’s plan of appeasement sounds familiar, it’s because it mirrors Ehud Barak’s proposal at Camp David in 2000. With considerable pressure applied by an American president in the final year of his second term, Barak offered Yasser Arafat East Jerusalem, most of the Old City and control of the Temple Mount in hopes of securing a promise of peace.

Today, as Netanyahu stated in his October speech, it’s the same lady—and she didn’t even bother to change her dress. The American president is now George W. Bush, who, heading into the final year of his presidency, seems just as desperate for a last-minute peace agreement as his predecessor was. And following in the footsteps of Madeline Albright, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has stated, “Frankly, it’s time for the establishment of a Palestinian state.” Ehud Olmert is playing the part of Ehud Barak, who now serves as Olmert’s defense minister. Yasser Arafat has been replaced by his trusted assistant of 40 years, Mahmoud Abbas. And the venue—Camp David—has been relocated to Annapolis, Maryland—assuming present-day negotiations don’t break down before the late-November summit. So the faces have changed, but the principal terms of the peace agreement are exactly the same.

The situation on the ground, however, is vastly different today compared to 2000, making the stakes for Israel much higher and far more dangerous. Abbas is similar to his predecessor in that he refuses to disarm terrorists or end the incitement against Israel which is perpetuated in Palestinian schools and on tv. But unlike Arafat, he is viewed as a weak leader in the Arab world—even among Palestinians. And his corrupt Fatah government doesn’t even speak for half the Palestinian people. He’s already surrendered to Hamas in Gaza! Remarkably, Western nations have responded to that weakness by funneling billions of dollars into his Palestinian Authority, trying to prop up the more “moderate” terrorist branch of the Palestinian people.

But it’s not international aid that’s keeping Abbas’s government afloat—it’s the Israel Defense Forces. Abbas may be a corrupt and inept leader wading in cash, but he knows that if Israel’s army were to withdraw unilaterally from the West Bank today, the Palestinian Authority, and possibly even his own life, would cease to exist tomorrow in another Gaza-like civil war with Hamas.

Mahmoud Abbas wants a Palestinian state. He obviously wants Israeli forces to retreat. But above all, he wants to survive—which is precisely why he can’t compromise with Israel. As Caroline Glick wrote, “Abbas’s stances are a reflection of his inability to make any concessions for peace” (Jerusalem Post, October 4; emphasis mine throughout). And so he’ll continue making unreasonable demands, blame Israel when negotiations break down, and all the while conducting back-channel negotiations with Hamas in hopes of surviving politically.

In an interview with the Palestinian-operated Ma’an News Agency on September 20, Ahmed Yousef, who advises Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, said Hamas was engaged in secret discussions with Abbas’s Fatah movement aimed at reconciling the differences between the two estranged parties. A few weeks later, Ma’an reported that 25 Fatah leaders in the West Bank and in Gaza wanted to “hold talks with Hamas to end the current impasse” (October 16).

These are the negotiations that really matter to Mahmoud Abbas. And unlike the “peace” process with Israel, he is willing to make concessions to Hamas.

Still, Olmert’s government blindly presses ahead under the illusion that appeasing terrorists will somehow result in lasting peace.

Perfect Preview

During the Camp David summit in 2000, Yasser Arafat had been offered East Jerusalem and most of the Old City, including custodianship of the Temple Mount. He demanded more: “I will not agree to any Israeli sovereign presence in Jerusalem, neither in the Armenian quarter, nor in the al-Aqsa Mosque, neither on the Via Dolorosa, nor in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. They can occupy us by force, because we are weaker now, but in two years, ten years, or one hundred years, there will be someone who will liberate Jerusalem” (memri, Aug. 28, 2000).

For Arafat, the peace talks had been nothing more than a charade. Israel offered one concession after another in order to keep momentum going for negotiations. But Arafat never conceded anything, and after talks broke down, he launched the second intifada. He called it “the al-Aqsa intifada,” implying that the Temple Mount was somehow in grave danger.

Incredibly, Ehud Barak responded to Arafat’s war by sending Israeli negotiators to Taba, Egypt, in January 2001, offering Arafat complete sovereignty over the Temple Mount. He tried to appease the Palestinian Authority, which had sanctioned the intifada, even as the war was raging! Arafat ignored the offer and unleashed more than 500 suicide attacks against Israel over the next five years.

The Camp David-Taba disaster gives a perfect preview of what will result from the latest round of Israeli concessions. In fact, Palestinian officials are already issuing threats of a third intifada. “If the talks fail,” said Palestinian chief negotiator Ahmad Qurei, “we can expect a third and much more severe intifada” (Jerusalem Post, October 11). Another official with close ties to Abbas, Azzam al-Ahmed, said the repercussions of failure at Annapolis “will be more dangerous than what happened after the failure of Camp David” (Jerusalem Post, October 2).

And what would constitute failure, from the Palestinian perspective? The Post cited another Palestinian official who referred to Camp David. He said the second intifada began when the Palestinians realized Israel was “not serious about achieving peace.”

Isn’t it unbelievable? Like Arafat, Abbas and his emissaries speak of Israel’s unprecedented—some would say suicidal—concessions at Camp David and Taba as insincere, cynical attempts to pretend that it wants peace. And yet, the popular misconception today among left-wing media elites is that Israel is the main obstacle to peace. In actual fact, Israelis are so desperate for peace that they are recycling policies that have already been tried, tested and failed! And this time, they are offering the same concessions without asking for anything in return.

Noting the one huge difference between today and the 2000 talks, Caroline Glick wrote, “Seven years ago, Barak’s offer of territory was based on the expectation that in exchange for territory the Palestinians would eschew terror and live at peace with Israel. Today, after seven years of war that was largely directed by Fatah, after Hamas’s takeover of Gaza and Iran’s takeover of Hamas, this expectation is no longer realistic. By offering Barak’s concessions for a second time, Olmert isn’t simply offering land. He is sending the message that Israel neither expects nor demands that the Palestinian state live at peace with Israel” (op. cit.).

Give them what they want and expect virtually nothing in return—that’s how desperate the Olmert government is for peace. Yet even that won’t satisfy the Palestinians. And it might well result in Olmert getting booted from office.

Taken by Violence

Israel will eventually give up East Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount—but it won’t be through negotiation. A Hamas-dominated Palestinian insurgence, backed by Iran, will take half the city by force! That’s what your Bible prophesies, which is why we have been making that prediction for several years now.

Notice Zechariah 14:1-2: “Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee. For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city.” This is clearly an end-time prophecy, as verses 3 and 4 make undeniably clear: “Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south.” East Jerusalem’s captivity occurs just before the Messiah’s appearance on the Mount of Olives! That’s how close we are to the end of this age.

If you are still skeptical of the Bible’s authority, consider this: Isn’t it astounding, amid all the current discourse about splitting Jerusalem in half, that an end-time prophecy written 2,500 years ago says Jerusalem will be cut in half right before Christ returns? Just think about that for a minute.

Now back to my father’s Jan. 6, 2006, Key of David program. Here was his Bible-based forecast:

He said Hamas is “about to get control of the Palestinians.” Three weeks after that program aired, the Palestinian people shocked the world by electing a Hamas majority into the Palestinian Legislative Council. Today, Hamas has complete control of Gaza militarily—and its sights are set on the West Bank and Jerusalem.

He said current peace negotiations would undoubtedly get hung up over the Temple Mount. According to a report from Arutz Sheva, Olmert has essentially agreed to the concessions offered at Taba, which include Palestinian sovereignty over the Temple Mount, but not the Jewish quarter of the Old City or the Wailing Wall—the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. But a senior adviser to Mahmoud Abbas recently said the Western Wall “is part of Islamic heritage that cannot be given up, and it must be under Muslim control” (Arutz Sheva, October 12). The sticking point, as my father forecasted, is the Temple Mount.

He said Israel is “going to be taken by force, and you need to realize that. Now, that might also indicate that the Likud, or the conservative party, will get in power.” In March 2006, my father followed up that program with this comment in the Trumpet: “[B]ased on the conflict Zechariah describes between the Palestinians and the Israeli government … Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party could bounce back and win the Israeli elections ….” That didn’t happen in March 2006. But look at the situation today. An October poll revealed that if elections were held right now, Likud would win 28 seats and Kadima’s majority would plunge from 29 to 13.

If Netanyahu becomes Israel’s next prime minister, how would that impact the status of Jerusalem? He would undoubtedly return to power on the same platform he outlined in his October 8 speech: “Keep Jerusalem United.” And while his will to fight against terrorism might be far stronger than Olmert’s, by that point, it will be too little too late.

Too much damage has been done.

“Perhaps Israel’s greatest diplomatic failure since 2000,” Glick wrote in her column, “has been its failure to disavow Barak’s offers and remove them from the negotiating table. Once Arafat refused Barak’s far-reaching concessions and chose instead to launch a war against the Jewish state, Israel had numerous opportunities to make clear these concessions were no longer on offer. Disavowing them is crucial not simply because they are diplomatically unwise. They are strategically suicidal” (op. cit.).

A seven-year record of surrendering without a fight is not exactly a position of strength for the next prime minister to operate from—no matter how conservative he might be. And even if he does resolve to fight, the Israeli people have already been conditioned to give up half of their capital.

It wasn’t like that in January 2001, when Israel’s populace first learned about the stunning concessions Barak had offered Arafat. Jerusalem’s mayor at the time, Ehud Olmert of all people, organized a “One Jerusalem” demonstration in which 400,000 Israelis from all over the country assembled at the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Old City to declare their support for a united city under Jewish sovereign rule. It was Israel’s largest protest in its history.

That spontaneous reaction in support of one Jerusalem has long since evaporated; the weak will of Israel’s leadership these past seven years has spread like cancer all over Israel.

From the Jewish perspective, as I wrote in the July Trumpet, the real significance of the failed negotiations between Barak and Arafat in 2000 is not that Arafat refused to accept half of Jerusalem—it’s that an Israeli prime minister actually made the offer. Before July of 2000, that had never happened. But with Jerusalem placed on the table as a bargaining chip, and left there ever since, Israelis have had several years to warm up to the idea. A poll by Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies in May found that 58 percent of Israelis supported the idea of giving up parts of Arab East Jerusalem if it would solidify a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Today, it would be difficult imagining 40,000 Jews, let alone 400,000, rallying to protest the division of their capital.

On the other hand, imagine the Arab reaction to an Israeli politician arriving seven or eight years after Camp David promising to disavow everything Barak and Olmert conceded.

Mahmoud Abbas would be the real loser in that scenario, looking at it politically. And Hamas, which has been calling for negotiations to cease between the Palestinian Authority and Israel (not to mention the destruction of Israel as a state), would be vindicated throughout the Arab world. Haven’t we said this all along, Hamas would gloat. Negotiations with Israel are futile; it has never been serious about achieving peace.

However the details play out, prophecy is sure. The violent division of Jerusalem doesn’t depend on a conservative government being elected in Israel. But if Benjamin Netanyahu does return to power, as my father suggested in early 2006, you can definitely see how the Zechariah 14 crisis would come to a head much more quickly.