It begins like a joke and ends like a prayer: a rabbi walks into a Palestinian city and shouts, “Allahu akbar!” The rabbi is settler leader Menachem Froman, the city is Bethlehem in the southern West Bank, and in his Monday evening speech at the Peace Center outside the Church of the Nativity, Froman charismatically reiterated his support for a Palestinian state.
“We know the road is long and hard and there are many obstacles left, but God is great. Allahu akbar,” Froman declared, bypassing his translator for the last comment. “Satan and his ilk do not want a Palestinian state! Satan and his ilk do not want a free and peaceful Palestine!”
The 66-year-old rabbi co-founded the Gush Emunim settler movement in 1974 and today works as the chief rabbi in the illegal settlement of Tekoa, about seven kilometers from Bethlehem. His history of cooperation with Palestinians is both extremely rare among Israeli settlers and well-documented, with Froman drafting an unofficial ceasefire with Hamas in February 2008.
Froman’s remarks drew applause from the crowd of about a hundred Bethlehemites, as well as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Muhammad Hussein and Archbishop of the Jerusalem Orthodox Church Atallah Hanna.
“In recent months we in Israeli society have followed the movements toward the creation of free and democratic states surrounding us—in Yemen, in Tunisia, in Libya, in Egypt, in Syria,” said Froman. “The Arab world is rising. We pray that there will be an independent and democratic Palestinian state, a state that will be good to all those who live in it, protecting their needs and well-being.”
Rabbi Froman originally pledged support for the statehood bid to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on August 31. He recently met with Land of Peace, a new settler group that describes itself as a “social movement…made up of the sons of Abraham” and devoted to dialogue between Arabs and Jews in the West Bank.
Froman’s speech was preceded by remarks by Atallah Hanna, who confirmed his support and that of the Jerusalem Orthodox Church for the Palestinian UN bid, but made sure to clarify the kind of state he wished to see emerge.
“If we get a state ruled by apartheid, we will not accept that state,” said Hanna. “We will accept nothing but a civil and democratic Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its recognized capital. We will accept nothing but self-determination for the Palestinian people and return for Palestinian refugees to their homes. I believe the right of return is of no less importance than our right to a state or our right to Jerusalem.”
There is now widespread concern among Palestinian intellectuals that the statehood bid may replace the PLO at the UN with a State of Palestine, which as a result of its territorial claims to only the lands occupied after 1967 might not be able to legally represent all Palestinians, including the five million refugees worldwide.
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