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  • When Prophecy Fails?The Theology of the Oslo Process—Rabbinical Responses to a Crisis of Faith
  • Motti Inbari (bio)

The Oslo process began with secret negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), and led to the signing of a declaration of principles by the two sides in Washington, DC in 1993. Israel agreed to withdraw from territories in the Gaza Strip, Judea and Samaria, and to establish a Palestinian autonomous authority in the area for an interim period, with a view to reaching a permanent settlement between the sides.

This process, and particularly the territorial compromise it entailed, created a profound crisis within those religious Zionist circles that have identified Israeli reality as part of a process of redemption. The political concessions threatened to disrupt their messianic expectations and required a response adapted to the new reality.

Accordingly, the Oslo process provides a test case for the way in which the religious Zionist public as a whole faced this crisis of faith, and, more specifically, the manner in which the Halachic guides of this public—those responsible for shaping its religious behavior—responded to this crisis.

This article will examine the attitude of the rabbinical leadership of the settlers toward the Oslo Accords, and will present the distinct responses of two rabbis—Yehuda Amital and Zvi Tau. The case studies will demonstrate how messianic believers face their prophetic failure and the modalities they apply in order to cope with it. Thus, the article will shade a new light on what happens when prophecy fails; However conditions are somewhat different. The Oslo process creates fear of a failure of faith due to the shattering of the vision of the Whole Land of Israel, but it has not yet been proved beyond doubt that redemption has failed. The study will show that messianic failure may in certain circumstances, lead to religious strengthening, but the opposite situation—of a retreat from messianic faith—is also possible. Accordingly, I shall seek to identify the circumstances that lead to these distinct responses. [End Page 303]

Gush Emunim

The Six Day War (June 1967) created a new reality in the Middle East. In the course of the war, Israel occupied the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula. These areas were not annexed to Israel, and have continued to have the status of occupied territories administered by Israel pending their return in the framework of a peace agreement. Accordingly, immediately after the war, Israel did not, on the whole, initiate Jewish settlement in the occupied areas, with the exception of East Jerusalem, which was formally annexed to the State of Israel. From the outset, however, this principle was not strictly applied, and soon after the war a number of Jewish settlements were established in the occupied territory.

In 1973, the Arab armies launched a surprise attack on Israel. Although Israel eventually won the war, the Israeli public was shocked and angered by the large number of fatalities and by the military weakness shown in the battles. Following the war, U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger began a shuttle diplomacy mission intended to lead to a ceasefire between the sides, and including Israeli territorial concessions.

Against the background of this shuttle diplomacy, the Gush Emunim ("Block of the Faithful") movement was founded with the objective of creating settlements in the occupied territories in order to prevent concessions. Gush Emunim was established in February 1974 by a group of young religious Zionist activists, and advocated the application of Israeli sovereignty to Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip.

At the time of its establishment, Gush Emunim did not expound a messianic message; it developed as a coalition of forces from the religious kibbutz movement and from bourgeois urban circles, together with secular supporters of the Whole Land of Israel movement.1

The first settlement action undertaken by activists from the organization, came when they entered a site in Sebastia without official permission. The authorities evicted the settlement several times, but the settlers then reached an agreement with Minister of Defense Shimon Peres that they would be housed in a neighboring IDF base—a decision that effectively led to the establishment of...


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pp. 303-325
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