Huffpost UK Politics uk
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Edward Platt Headshot

Power-sharing in Hebron, the City of Abraham

Posted: Updated:

Confirmation of the way that Israel has changed in its 65 year history is likely to come in next week's election: polls suggest that for the first time, the 120-seat Knesset or parliament is unlikely to include a single resident of a kibbutz, while the eclipse of the socialist, secular pioneers who founded the state has been matched by the rise of religious nationalists with no interest in the 'peace process' endorsed by Britain and the rest of the international community.

Even the fanatical settlers of Hebron - the small group of notorious extremists who choose to live in the heart of the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank - may end up with two representatives in the Knessett: Orit Struck, director of the settlers' 'legal department', and a rabbi called Hillel Horovitz are standing for election under the banner of the national-religious Bayat Yehudi, or Jewish Home.

The party was established in 2008 by Naftali Bennett, Benjamin Netanyahu's former chief of staff. Bennett has been so succesful in outflanking his former employer that he may win as many as 12 or 13 seats, and hold the balance of power in the new right-wing coalition that is likely to emerge. The arrangement would present a challenge to the British government and its allies in the international community, who want to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by implementing the'two state solution.' Hopes of creating a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza have faded during Netanyahu's current term of office, but he has, at least, grudgingly accepted the idea in principle. Naftali Bennett has done nothing of the sort: he has said that he would annex 60% of the West Bank, and declared that a Palestinian state is "just not going to happen."

The settlers of Hebron, who have regarded Netanyahu as a traitor since 1997, when he authorised Israeli withdrawal from 80% of the city, would go further - they refer to the territory that Israel captured from Jordan in 1967 by the Biblical names Judea and Samaria, and assert their God-given right to it all. Hebron, where I spent a great deal of time in the last few years, researching my book The City of Abraham, is particularly significant, for it is the birthplace of the Jewish people. According to Genesis, Abraham lived in Hebron when he arrived in the Promised Land, and he and his family are supposed to be buried in the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the city's holiest shrine. Yet it is not just Jews who claim descent from Abraham: he had another son called Ishmael, who is believed to be the father of Arabs. As a Palestinian man once said to me, Jews and Arabs are 'brothers with different mothers', and since the settlers returned to Hebron after the Six Day War, the 'Children of Abraham' have been conducting an experiment in power-sharing in the city of their birth.

So far, it has not gone very well - no-one who has seen the disastrous state of communal relations in Hebron could pretend that the two sides are close to any kind of understanding, and yet they will be obliged to reach one in the end. So will their compatriots, if nationalist-religious politicians like Naftali Bennett and Orit Struck get their way: the creation of the 'Greater Israel' that they would like to see would present a serious challenge to British diplomats and politicians and their allies in the international community, for it would mark the demise of the 'two state solution', but it would also precipitate the end of the Zionist dream of a state with a Jewish majority. Once it becomes apparent that there will never be a Palestinian state in the West Bank, then the Palestinian movement will change from a national liberation struggle to a civil rights campaign, and the painful struggle that is now taking place between the children of Abraham in Hebron will be replicated throughout Israel and the West Bank. Eventually, the clamour for equal representation for all citizens of the single country that is beginning to emerge west of the Jordan will become impossible to resist.