Kevin ClarkeApril 11, 2019
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accompanied by his wife, Sara, waves to supporters after polls closed for Israel's general elections, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on April 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is preparing for an unprecedented fifth term this week after his Likud Party emerged with the likeliest chance to form a government after votes were tallied from the parliamentary election on April 9. The victory was cheered by conservative Israelis who support the prime minister’s hard line against Palestinian aspirations in the Middle East, but how was the election outcome received by Israel’s Christian population?

“I am not sure that the term ‘Christian population’ means anything here,” said David Neuhaus, S.J., the former patriarchal vicar for Hebrew-speaking Catholics in the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, explaining that Israel is home to “three major types of Christians.”

Christian Palestinians who are citizens of Israel, he said in an interview conducted by email, would react just like all other Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel.

To them, Father Neuhaus said, Mr. Netanyahu’s victory “means more of the same, more occupation in the Palestinian territories and more discrimination inside Israel.”

For Christians “who are part and parcel of Israeli Jewish society,” mostly of Russian origin, he said, “the fear is that Netanyahu would make strong alliances with the ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties and this would lead to a less secular atmosphere.”

For a third group of Israeli Christians, migrant workers and asylum seekers, “the victory of Netanyahu is a nightmare.” Father Neuhaus explained that the prime minister’s political allies from the hard right “have said that they will push for the expulsion [of migrant workers] and even less space to breathe for them.”

Mr. Netanyahu’s victory “means more of the same, more occupation in the Palestinian territories and more discrimination inside Israel.”

Ultimately though, “I would imagine that most Christians, whatever group they belong to, would have liked to see change so that there might be some small palpable hope for more justice and more peace,” Father Neuhaus said.

Pursued by corruption investigations, the prime minister faced a tough challenge this election and as the race tightened he appeared to ratchet up his campaign rhetoric, openly calling for the annexation of parts of the West Bank—a prospect that would surely make a two-state solution in the Middle East difficult, if not impossible, to implement. A longtime observer of Israeli-Palestinian politics, Father Neuhaus was perhaps not as shocked as some  by the comments. That’s because “the two-state solution was never really fully alive.”

According to Father Neuhaus, the Israeli political leadership in recent years has “only mouthed support” for a peace process that concludes with two independent states “and now no longer does even that.”

Father Neuhaus believes that the prime minister’s comments about annexation were not just red meat for his base during the sprint in this contentious race. The remarks “test the waters” now that President Trump’s recognition of the Golan Heights as part of Israel has added legitimacy to the seizure of what had been considered Palestinian territory. “Netanyahu certainly wants to avoid any possibility of a Palestinian state,” Father Neuhaus said. In the near term, he said, “the U.S. position on [further annexation] will be decisive.”

But “annexation will most likely be creeping, bit by bit, establishing roads and settlements in particular parts of the West Bank and making sure that what is left is fragmented so that it cannot become a state. This goes hand in hand with ensuring that Palestinian divisions, particularly P.L.O. versus Hamas, would not be overcome.”

“Obviously, I must respect the democratic will of the Israeli people expressed at the ballot box,” said the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, Archbishop for the Military Services and chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on International Justice and Peace, responding by email. “However, there is also a question of justice here.

“The Palestinian people have been in the Middle East for centuries,” Archbishop Broglio said. “It is also their home. Provision must be made to ensure that they can remain, enjoy a livelihood and be able to raise their families in peace and with a future…. There can be no peace in the Middle East if a people—whose legitimate right to live and work there is beyond question—cannot enjoy peace and prosperity.

“The Holy See has insisted consistently,” he said, “on the importance of a two-state solution and an international status for Jerusalem. The position has been backed by action: Bethlehem University, the trade schools at Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center are only a few examples of this powerful commitment.”

Mr. Netanyahu’s remarks “test the waters” now that President Trump’s recognition of the Golan Heights as part of Israel has added legitimacy to the seizure of what had been considered Palestinian territory.

Much has been made of the Trump administration’s efforts to directly support Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government and even to shore up his flagging campaign. Since 2017, Mr. Trump has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; he has moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv, cut off contact with the Palestinian Authority and terminated U.S. humanitarian aid to the West Bank and Gaza. He recently reversed decades of official U.S. policy in recognizing the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights from Syria.

Those various interventions “have disastrously empowered Netanyahu,” Father Neuhaus said. “Some of us thought that maybe this was leading to a day when Trump would demand a payback and use that to establish a Palestinian state, promised since 1947 by the [United Nations] and still unfulfilled. This certainly does not seem to be the way that things are developing, and most of those who seek justice and peace in the Middle East see the Trump administration as an enemy rather than an ally.”

“The Israeli population is very split,” he said. “There are those—a minority—that think the Palestinian question is a burning one, and the vast majority of them believe that the Palestinians should be granted a state of their own, even if it is minuscule and fragmented.”

Other Israelis, he said, prefer to ignore the issue or dismiss the quagmire of competing claims and aspirations in the Holy Land as “insoluble anyway.”

“Many of this group,” he said, “seem to think that Israel can live with the continued occupation without paying too high a price.” That perspective is that the status quo, miserable as it is for many, can continue as long as violence is sporadic, “the international community and most importantly the U.S. does not care about justice for Palestinians.” And the nations of the Arab are “disintegrating” and now more focused on their individual self-interest.

According to this somewhat cynical perspective, “the world will finally weary of the Palestinian issue and justice will be abandoned—as will the Palestinians—as the great powers plot a new Middle East with Israel at its center… an economic beating heart and the rest of the Arab world as partners of Israel.”

Father Neuhaus explains that some in Israel, Christians among them, have come to support a one-state solution as now the more promising vehicle for peace and justice for Palestinians.

In that instance, supporters of annexation and the end of the two-state solution may be careful what they wish for. Father Neuhaus explains that some in Israel, Christians among them, have come to support a one-state solution as now the more promising vehicle for peace and justice for Palestinians.

“It would transform the struggle into a struggle for equality within the state rather than for independence,” he explained. “Many Palestinians no longer have faith in a two-state solution and are alienated from their own leadership…. The struggle for equality among full citizens in a state might be preferred by some over the struggle for a state that is so fragmented, divided, impoverished and dysfunctional that its prospect is more of a nightmare than a dream.”

Editor’s note (April 12, 2019; 11:02 a.m. ET): This report has been updated to include comments from Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio and to correct a misquote. Father Neuhaus said that “some” Israelis had come to support a one-state option, not “many” as original reported.

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Clayton Miller
2 years 2 months ago

The very definition of irony: complaining about Israel's treatment of its non-citizens (who are lucky enough to live in Israel as opposed Syria, Iraq, etc.) while ignoring the fact that in EVERY Muslim-majority country in the world Jewish citizens are denied equality of rights under the law.

rose-ellen caminer
2 years 2 months ago

Muslim majority countries are not democracies and are denounced for not being so.We have been warring against some of these countries for decades. We ethnically cleansed Baghdad of all its Sunnis Muslims[ we killed them all] and installed Shia /Kurd government to persecute the remaining Sunnis. of Iraq. WE denied equal rights for all Muslim Iraqis. That was OUR doing. We turned a blind eye to a brutal regimes' holocaust against Syrian Sunni Muslims. Others Muslim countries we have sanctions on, and one; the extremest fundamentalist Saudi Arabia, we supported for our own interests ; below market oil and military bases during the cold war.We have changed our laws to allow torture of Muslims and deliberately kept them beyond the reaches of our Constitutional protections and rights. Our president ran and won in part on wanting to ban Muslims; the Supreme Court validated his banning of Muslim refugees ;REAL refugees in desperate need fleeing REAL wars; keeping them; men women and kids in tent refugee camps for years is fine with us. Our stance towards Muslim countries and people ; contrary to what you are alleging IS one of animus through and through.
Israel is a democracy for Jews yet it violates the inherent rights of Palestinian Arabs, by occupying them and not allowing them full citizenship, and by oppressive means of controlling them.It employs illegal and militarist fascistic tactics of collective guilt and collective punishment in its treatment of Palestinian Arabs under its control.And by illegally annexing land through armed conflict. This is why Israel is correctly labeled an apartheid racist state!

JR Cosgrove
2 years 2 months ago

Has America, the magazine, ever written a positive article about Israel? I don’t know too many details about what goes on there so cannot comment on the opinions in the article but it is all one sided. The Christians and Muslims living in Israel could move elsewhere in the Middle East since migration is common in the area. My guess they would never consider that.

Robert Lewis
2 years 2 months ago

Are you actually intimating that Jesuits are anti-Semitic? If you are that is a damned lie!

rose-ellen caminer
2 years 2 months ago

If you don't support Israel with its racist and illegal land grabs and oppression of Palestinian Arabs ,i.e., if you are not "dually loyal", then you are an anti Semite. Rep.Omar understands this and has chosen to be a trail blazer rather then the Muslim immigrant version of the "house negro", and lo and behold she is a target of the dually loyal anti[Semitic] Arab/ Islmamophobes.; the most pernicious anti- Semitism of 21st century America.

Israel should return to the original pre 67 war borders which all Palestinian Arabs would now accept, OR allow the Palestinian Arabs to be Israeli citizens. Israel could keep her flag, her official Hebrew language , her version of history,the right of return for all diaspora Jews, and her laws and system of government.Two solutions, but none acceptable to right wing Israelis; who don't want Arabs to be in the majority[ racism] and won't relinquish land illegally annexed, and who control in oppressive manner a stateless people which violates inherent human rights.Justice is with the Palestinians ,even though both groups have committed terrorism. The Arabs [Palestinians] initially fought against the creation of the Israeli state[ these were European/Russian colonizers coming into their homelands to establish a state indifferent to them being there] but today all Palestinians Arabs including Hamas would accept either one of these just solutions; full citizenship or the original borders .

Kristeen Bruun
2 years 2 months ago

How on earth can you assert that Hamas or the PLO would accept these solutions when people are marching and picketing with signs that say "From the River to the Sea"? The Palestinians have had decades to recognize Israel's right to exist with any borders at all, and refuse to do so, hoping to drive the Jews out completely. I am not saying that everything Israel has done has been perfect, but I do think they have been very patient. If the Palestinians end up with bupkiss, they have only themselves to blame for their intransigence.

Eugene Fitzpatrick
2 years 1 month ago

Yeah. Just because Israel has stolen their land, bull-dozed their homes, imprisoned and killed legions of their relatives including numerous children, dirtied their water, drastically curtailed the freedom of movement on their own property and subjected them to economic strangulation is no reason for the Palestinians to be hostile to the loving, all-giving Jewish population. Yes Israel would prefer that the Palestinians not share in life on Earth but is that any reason for Palestinian youth to throw pebbles at Israeli tanks and mortars and even the IDF colonizers’ helmets? We Americans paid for Israeli weaponry so why shouldn’t we be incensed when it’s damaged by a 17 year-old Palestinian with a sling-shot even before the Israeli corporal, only arrived two years ago from Russia, gets a chance to shoot the Palestinian dead!

JR Cosgrove
2 years 2 months ago

I didn't say the Jesuits are anti-semitic. So why mention it?

I suggest you read the articles on Israel published on the America site and see what percentage are anti Israel. Maybe the reason for this lies elsewhere than anti-semitism.

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