The shared madness of the fundamentalists who threaten this fledgling peace process

It is vulnerable to sabotage from the ugly triplets of Islamic, Jewish and Christian fundamentalism
Click to follow
The Independent Online

For most of us, the Palestinian peace conference in London yesterday seemed like tentatively good news - but beware. This gathering of world leaders to discuss Palestinian self-determination after 38 years of Israeli occupation has caused a dip in the Rapture Index - the score that predicts the likelihood of the return of the messiah and the imminence of Armageddon. At www.raptureready.com - one of the most popular Christian sites in the US - the index has dipped to 153, the lowest this century - so this gathering of Mahmoud Abbas, Kofi Annan, Condoleezza Rice and Tony Blair is plainly a disaster.

For most of us, the Palestinian peace conference in London yesterday seemed like tentatively good news - but beware. This gathering of world leaders to discuss Palestinian self-determination after 38 years of Israeli occupation has caused a dip in the Rapture Index - the score that predicts the likelihood of the return of the messiah and the imminence of Armageddon. At www.raptureready.com - one of the most popular Christian sites in the US - the index has dipped to 153, the lowest this century - so this gathering of Mahmoud Abbas, Kofi Annan, Condoleezza Rice and Tony Blair is plainly a disaster.

You see, they are simply putting off the "inevitable" confrontation in the Middle East between the Forces of Good (Israel and the US) and the Forces of Evil (Muslims, the godless Europeans, and the "United Nobodies" of the UN). The prophecies contained in the Book of Revelations can only unfold when the Jews have regained control of the biblical land of Israel and the Middle East finally blows. It's a great script: the good will physically ascend to heaven, the bad will remain on Earth for a hellish 1,000-year war and the messiah will return - but Tony Blair, damn him, is thwarting God's plan.

Okay, so there are a lot of lunatics out there. Why should we worry about these people? There's a simple reason: these rapture-hungry evangelicals are George Bush's core vote, and they have been a brake on progress in Israel/Palestine for the past four years. Nearly half of Bush's voters at the last election - and the most enthusiastic - describe themselves as born-again evangelicals. Of them, no less than 71 per cent believe the world will end in a battle between Jesus and the Anti-Christ in Israel - and a third expect it to happen in their lifetimes.

By trying desperately to nudge the Americans to restart peace talks in Israel/Palestine, Blair is - whether he realises it or not - in a fight for George Bush's soul with these evangelicals. Blair wants payback for Iraq. The evangelicals want payback for their votes. On Israel, Bush can only please one side. If yesterday's conference is going to come to anything - if it is going to be more than another Roadmap to Nowhere - Bush is going to have to turn on his heartland, and hard.

In his first term, Bush refused to, because Daddy Bush lost in 1992 by supposedly being "too tough" on Israel - prompting three million evangelicals to stay at home on election day. So, in practice, Bush Jnr allowed Israel to do whatever it wanted in the Occupied Territories - from house demolitions to not-so-targeted assassinations to building yet more settlements. There were many reasons for this (all bad), but pleasing the Christian Coalition was a key factor. It's not the tiny, and mostly left-wing, Jewish vote or even the real, but exaggerated, Jewish lobby that skews American foreign policy. It's hard, amoral geopolitics mixed with this "Christian Zionism".

I know, I know - it seems impossible that such fantastical beliefs could actually have an impact on the policies of a superpower. I used to think so, too - until two years ago, when I went on the Christian Coalition solidarity tour of Israel. It was me (under cover) and 10 evangelicals, all buckled-up for a holiday in End-Times. I ended up (for my sins) sharing a room with Tracey Ammons - the Christian Coalition's main lobbyist in the Senate. His vision of Middle East peace was simple - and constantly explained at very high volume: "Soon, the Palestinians will be left with nothin', praise be. Give the Arabs the desert. They like to be Bedouins. They can do that and we'll be happy - so long as they behave." (At every biblical site we visited, Tracey would ring his wife. "Honey, I'm in Golgotha!", he would yell into his mobile. "If I see Jesus, I'll say hi from ya!" This reached its apogee when we visited the Wailing Wall. "Say honey, do you want to talk to God?", he said, before holding the phone to the Wall for 10 minutes).

Tracey is on first-name terms with every Republican senator. "They are men of God," he explained. "We pray together all the time. They all agree with me in private that Israel shouldn't have to negotiate. This is God's land, and he gave it to the Jews," he said. We stood at Meggido - the site of Armageddon in the Book of Revelations - and he muttered hungrily: "Soon. Soon."

But now Bush is safely back in the White House, will he make the calculation that he can finally ditch the Christian Coalition - or is he a true believer? Tony Blair points optimistically to the fact Bush supports the withdrawal from Gaza - but Gaza is not part of the biblical land of Israel, and the evangelicals don't care much about it. Blair also points to the fact Bush has come out for a two-state solution, which will have to include some of the biblical West Bank. But will Bush anger the evangelicals, or will he let the two-state vision thrash about painfully and die, as he did with the road map? If this week's London conference is going to mean anything, Bush is going to have to play holy hardball with his closest friends - something almost without precedent in his career.

So even though the peace process was nudged a few inches forward yesterday, it is still vulnerable to sabotage from the ugly triplets of Islamic, Jewish and Christian fundamentalism. I've met exemplars of all three. Whenever there's a suicide bomber, I rush to Israeli news websites to check if the killer was one of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad members I met in Gaza, those sad, absurd young men who bragged about how they longed to "die in the name of Allah". Whenever I see the Jewish fundamentalist settlers thrusting their banners into the air and damning Sharon - Sharon! - as "Hitler's little helper" for ordering the derisory dismantling of a few illegal settlements, I check to see if they are the bilious racists who told me I didn't understand the "Arab mind". Whenever I hear Bush pandering to his evangelical base, I think of Tracey and his hunger for a Holy Land cleansed of Palestinians. And every time I think of them, it strikes me how very similar they all are, locked together in their shared madness.

It's true this peace process is deeply imperfect. It demands that the Palestinians pre-emptively disarm - while they are under violent, grinding, daily occupation - in return for a vague pledge that further down the line Ariel Sharon and George Bush will show good faith and help establish a Palestinian state. I wouldn't bet a punnet of strawberries on the good faith of Sharon and Bush, never mind the future of the Palestinian people.

Worse, Sharon has made it clear that he will not withdraw to the 1967 borders - which means he is effectively demanding the permanent theft of Palestinian land. It's hard to see how this can lead to an acceptable two-state solution. But - as Tony Blair always says in the context of Northern Ireland - "a bad peace process is better than no peace process at all". Even with its crippling flaws, this is a process worth defending from the three fundamentalisms - because without it, the Middle East will certainly be locked in an endless war.

And here's a tip for how to figure out how well the peace process is going. Keep an eye on the Rapture Index - if it's low, you know the Palestinians might just stand a chance.

johann@johannhari.com

Comments