NEWS:  February 28, 2001

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Bird’s Eye View of the News

Atila Sinke Guimarães

PEACE, THE NEW NAME OF WAR – On February 7, Mr. Ariel Sharon, the new prime minister of Israel, made an important statement. As the reader will remember, the wave of violence through which the Middle East is passing began with Sharon's visit to Temple Mount. Assuming what was considered an arrogant attitude, he excited violent reactions in the Arab world, which, in turn, fueled retaliations on the part of the Jews. It was Ariel Sharon, therefore, who lit the fuse of the bomb that set fire to the Middle East. In a climate of growing religious confrontation, the compromises made at Camp David by Mr. Ehud Barak, the former Israeli prime minister, especially the agreement to return to the Palestinians significant parts of the territory dominated today by the Jews, took on connotations of an apostasy. In the Parliament, this lost him the political support of the small parties directed by the "orthodox" rabbis and caused his downfall. This support, by a symmetrical political dynamism, helped Sharon to win office and replace Barak.

Ariel Sharon's first symbolic act was to visit the Wailing Wall to pray. There, assuming a solemn pose with his hand placed over a stone as if pronouncing an oath, he declared: "I am visiting Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish people for the past 3,000 years and the united and indivisible capital of Israel - with the Temple Mount at its center - for all eternity" (Los Angeles Times, February 8, 2001, p. A6). Here, it must be admitted that Mr. Sharon has a singular talent to say many things in a few words. With one phrase, he estranged Israel from several of the great powers of the present day world.

First, to affirm that Jerusalem is the indivisible capital of Israel is to oppose his government immediately to John Paul II and the Vatican who, since 1967, have constantly advocated a special status for Jerusalem summarized in the slogan "one city, two peoples, three religions."

Second, he set himself up against the U.N., the entity that established the State of Israel in 1948. In accordance with the treaties of the time, which were constantly violated by the Jews, Jerusalem would be the capital of the Arabs and the Jews.

Third, Sharon's statement is a violent provocation to the Arabs, both because of the pretension to possess Jerusalem "for all eternity," and because of his insinuation that the Jews are the legitimate proprietors of the Temple Mount, the site of two of the most important mosques of Islamism. That is to say, his declaration poured gasoline on the fire.

Fourth, by taking on the airs of a prophet of the Old Testament foretelling the future - his theatrical posture with his hand over the stone of the Wailing Wall, his "sacred fury," and his mystical-childlike announcement that Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel for all eternity - Sharon has certainly displeased the pragmatic Jews who make up a good part of the representatives of the Labor Party and the conservative Likud. These Jews want Israel to be a nation like any other, with right of citizenship in the modern world. They do not want to confer on Israel a messianic pose, which would probably lead to the end of the present parliamentary regime and the installation of a theocratic dictatorship. Now, the votes of these two parties form the major political base from which a prime minister governs. Thus, the "sublime" attitude assumed by the "new prophet" jeopardizes his present and future political support in the Parliament.

Fifth, his affirmation that Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for the last 3,000 years flies in the face of the juridical concepts accepted among present day nations. According to the Law, only a country (i.e., a politically independent people or nation in the peaceful possession of a territory and constituting a State - see entries nation and state in Black's Law Dictionary) can have a capital. A people dispersed all around the world without territory do not constitute a State, cannot form a Country, and cannot have a capital. By referring to the Jewish people, nomadic and dispersed for 1,900 years, as if they were a country, Mr. Sharon subverts a basic concept normally admitted in the field of Law. That is to say, he abandons the normal terminology used by civilized nations to situate himself in the tribal-mystical company of the ayatollahs, who despise the notions of contemporary Law and forge new juridical concepts at their convenience.

Sixth, the same affirmation that Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jews for the last 3,000 years indisposes Sharon with scholars, because this is a historically erroneous statement. From the year 70 AD (the conquest of Jerusalem by Titus) until the year 1948, Jerusalem did not belong to the Jews. Before 70 AD, in the one thousand years before the Christian era, the situation of the city was very diversified from the point of view of independence, and the statement of Sharon is hardly appropriate. Furthermore since 1948, Jerusalem has never had a status that was peacefully accepted. The unilateral declaration of the city as the capital of Israel also has been violently contested by the Palestinians with considerable international support of important nations, which does not permit it to be considered such either de jure or de facto. So, Mr. Sharon ignored History when he affirmed: "Jerusalem was capital of the Jewish people for the last 3,000 years."

With his short and violent statement, Sharon declared war on many people… Notwithstanding, in order to maintain the vital support that the United States gives to the State of Israel, he has since stated that he is favorable to peace. It seems that in the linguistic field as well, Mr. Ariel Sharon has introduced some new interpretations: the word peace from his lips actually means war.

ORACLE OF DELPHI - In the years preceding the Millennium, there was much talk of how John Paul II would convoke an important pan-religious meeting that would be decisive for the future of the Catholic Church. Some, like Archbishop John Quinn, were calling for an ecumenical council for the year 2000 with the aim of changing the Papacy to propitiate a swift union of all the religions. I realized that all this in effect was preparing for an important meeting, eventually a council, which would be one of the fundamental marks that would characterize the preparations for and passing of the Millennium. My book Quo vadis, Petre? (1999) delved more deeply into this matter. The Millennium has ended, and in October 1999 Rome was the scene of a re-enactment of the pan-religious journey of Assisi, but it was not the awaited decisive meeting that would change everything. Why the delay in the plan? I have received strong critiques - "exaggerated"! - for having questioned the Pope about where he was heading with the aforementioned initiative, along with others. I continued to wait calmly for some indication that could explain the change in plans. Recently a light appeared at the end of the tunnel.

The topic was addressed in an interview by Mr. Andrea Riccardi, president of the Society of Sant'Egidio, with the magazine Actualité des Religions (Paris, January 2001, pp.8-9). The Italian Catholic Society of Sant'Egidio is the most famous lay center in the world that spreads ecumenism. Much of what the directors of that society say about ecumenism is taken as words from the "oracle of Delphi," that is to say, a sure interpretation for the mysteries of the present and a penetrating discernment of events for the future.

In the interview, Riccardi tried to immunize his readers against those who "are pessimistic about the future of ecumenism." Attempting to bolster the hope of his followers, he offered these weak arguments: "We have not exhausted the dialogue among us ["Christians"]. Numerous problems persist, born from concrete situations. For example, the problem of the Uniates [the Ukrainian Catholics of the Eastern rite who are not obeying the ecumenical orientation of Rome, are converting many Schismatics to the Catholic Faith and are re-claiming the Russian Schismatic churches], the tensions between the Catholic Church and Russian Orthodox Church, and also between Moscow and Constantinople. On this level I fear a theological dialogue that could be transformed into technical diplomacy. In a contrary sense, I am convinced of the need for a 'dialogue of charity.' A dialogue that does not exclude the dimension of love."

The practical conclusion: Ecumenism is once again beached, left high and dry.

Riccardi, as one who knows the subject well, explained the intentions of the Pope: "In Tertio Millennio Adveniente [1995], John Paul II expressed a dream: 'We present ourselves on the occasion of the Grand Jubilee, if not totally united, at least much closer to overcoming the divisions of the Second Millennium.' He was hoping for a 'significant pan-Christian meeting' in Rome … This meeting would have been a very important sign. He could not realize it in the year 2000. But in the near future it will be an obligatory step." Throughout the interview, the president of Sant'Egidio complained about the difficulties encountered by ecumenism. He ended by affirming that "pessimism is in fashion today."

Yet one more high-level confirmation of the failure of ecumenism and an indirect explanation of the reason why the planned pan-religious meeting did not take place in 1999 or 2000.

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