WHAT DOES THE TORAH SAYS ABOUT: THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF OSLO?

With Rabbi Zvi SOLOMONS.

Twenty years ago the Oslo peace agreement was signed between the Israelis and Palestinians. It was meant to lead to an independent Palestine national authority and the with- drawal of Israel from the Gaza and parts of the West Bank. Although it is true that the original agreement envisaged peace within five years, Oslo formed a basis for continued peace negotiations ever since.

With the advent of the Hamas regime in Gaza, and a spate of bombings in the immediate wake of the agreements, Israel has built a separation fence and there is some doubt as to whether any of these accords were of any value whatsoever. Be that as it may, in the religious Zionist community, many of whose members live in the West Bank and lived in Gaza feel the accords are against the spirit of Judaism.

The argument hinges essentially on the nature of the agreement, and the nature of those with whom the agreement was signed. Some rabbis would argue that the Torah forbids us to come to peace agreements with Canaanites. They imply that those Arabs who term themselves Palestinians are, in fact, Canaanites descended from those who were to serve as slaves to Jewish people forever.

Of course, this is ridiculous. All the more so in light of recent genetic analysis of Jews and Palestinians which show that we are closely related and suggest most Palestinians are descended from those Jews who remained behind in the land, and were converted to other religions.

On this basis, it is a Jew’s sacred duty to conquer the land of Israel, and subdue the peoples who live within it. Nobody reasonable can see this extreme mindset fitting within the Oslo framework.

The counter argument has been that it is wrong for our Jewish army to occupy those who, be they ever so hateful, wish to lead independent lives. Should land which was never really part of the land of Israel (Gaza was a Philistine domain, never really part of historic Israel) ever be worth Jewish lives?

This is further complicated by those rabbis who would like to designate Muslims and Christians in Israel as idle worshippers. This is plainly against primary Torah legislation. For example Maimonides considers Muslims to be faithful monotheists. In recent years, rabbis have forbidden Jews to sell all let their houses or flats to anyone except for a Jew. This is paranoia.

The political question of whether one can give the land for peace is one which shows no sign of being settled soon. Some have brutalised Jewish tradition to justify a political stance, which does nobody any credit. The only reasonable approach is that which we take at the end of our prayers – “May he who makes peace in high places make peace for us and for all Israel.” Oslo has not provided that result. Who knows if it ever will.