Withdrawals, expulsions, and peace agreements are the golden calves of our generation. They hold a mystical sway over the people, regardless of their context, purpose, or arrangement.
Just as we wonder what could possibly have motivated our ancestors to construct and worship a metal cow right after the miracle of the Exodus, our children will wonder what drove us to so shamefully and willingly give up portions of Eretz Yisrael and Yerushalayim after thousands of years of waiting, hoping, praying and struggling to miraculously regain them.
Not long ago, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of Shas, Israel’s Sephardic-haredi political party, declared that Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans was a divine response to the 2005 Gaza Disengagement. Yet Shas, with Rabbi Yosef’s blessing, is a critical member of a government led by Ehud Olmert, the Disengagement’s earliest proponent.
Olmert’s party, Kadima, is the bastard child of the Disengagement.
It was Likud’s founding father, Menachem Begin, who repeatedly exclaimed that Israel would never let go of portions of Eretz Yisrael conquered in 1967. During that war, Begin quietly urged other ministers not to accept a cease-fire until the IDF captured Jerusalem. In 1980, under Begin’s leadership, the Knesset enacted a Basic Law, which possesses quasi-constitutional status in Israel, stating that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel.”
In 2005, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon formed Kadima because the majority of the Likud had rebelled against Sharon and his Disengagement. Sharon needed an alternative party to remain in power. He created Kadima and drew on Likud for membership, finding politicians willing to betray Likud’s founding principles of commitment to Eretz Yisrael.
Shas joined Kadima’s government in April 2005. “Shas’s entry into the government,” a National Religious Party member said at the time, “constitutes a de facto kashrut certificate” for the 2005 Disengagement and future plans like it.
Even though Olmert has repeatedly confirmed his willingness to negotiate Jerusalem and create a Palestinian state, Rabbi Yosef continues in his support for the prime minister. He told Olmert the day before the release of the Winograd Report, “Fear not, and do not be dismayed, for I am with you.”
The creation and maintenance of a government in Israel requires 61 Knesset members. In January, Yisrael Beiteinu quit Olmert’s government, leaving it with 67 members, 12 of which belong to Shas. Thus, Shas has become vital to Olmert’s coalition. At least for the time being.
In order to mitigate the hypocrisy of supporting one of the Disengagement’s founding fathers, Shas Chairman (and Olmert’s Vice Premier) Eli Yishai has said that “if Jerusalem is raised as a negotiating issue, we can no longer be in his government.”
Basta! (enough!), as Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the Likud’s spiritual grandfather, would have exclaimed.
Shas would have the Jewish people believe that it has fulfilled its responsibility merely by promising to leave the government when Olmert “officially” negotiates Jerusalem. But this is a very transparent rationalization because every day Olmert remains in power brings Jerusalem and the Land of Israel that much closer to division.
For years, dividing Jerusalem was a negotiations non-starter. By raising the option of dividing Jerusalem practically sui sponte, Olmert has already moved Jerusalem toward division. He has made Jews comfortable with the idea. He has created expectations in the United States, among the Palestinians, in the wider Arab world and everywhere else that Jerusalem will be divided.
President Bush, in fact, cited the “urgency in [Olmert’s] voice” to support a prediction that a peace treaty would be signed by the end of his presidency.
Bush’s recent visit to Israel illustrated how Shas is contributing to Jerusalem’s division. At a press conference on January 10, Bush listed Jerusalem among several core issues that need to be negotiated as part of a final deal. Recognizing the importance of Olmert’s coalition partners in making his prediction come true, Bush injected himself into Israeli politics by asking Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu to keep Olmert in power.
And Shas’s strategy is tailored to do just that. Because Shas will leave the government only when Olmert “officially” raises the status Jerusalem at negotiations, Olmert merely has to find another party willing to sell out – which in Israeli politics is not hard to do – before he discusses Jerusalem.