As thousands of joyous Christian tourists danced through the streets of Jerusalem on their annual colorful Feast of Tabernacles parade, a group of well-funded neoconservatives gathered on the other side of the capital at the inaugural Jerusalem Summit.
The exclusive Oct. 12-14 conference at the King David Hotel united right-wing thinkers, activists and media primarily from the United States and Israel for what they hope will become a new umbrella organization aimed at providing an alternative to the "road map" and a tougher stance on terrorism in Israel.
"The only way to fight terror is without political restraints," said Ehud Olmert, minister of industry and trade and vice prime minister, at the summit. The former Jerusalem mayor dismissed the road map and said that Israel must "decide on a unilateral process based on what we want."
The conference was planned to coincide with the Feast of Tabernacles, when more than 3,000 Christians come to Israel to express support for Israel and to see the Land of Jesus.
"Jewish people remind the world that they are accountable to God," the Rev. Malcolm Hedding, executive director of the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem, which sponsored the Feast, said, addressing the Jerusalem Summit.
The summit reiterated the growing ties between Evangelical Christians and conservative Jews and presented a wide range of the right: fairly moderate Mideast analyst Daniel Pipes advocated resuming the peace process when the Palestinians give up terror, while Ambassador Alan Keyes called not for peace but for victory through military means. Other speakers included government officials such as Minister of Finance Benjamin Netanyahu, Minister of Tourism Benny Elon and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Uzi Landau; and American policymakers Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Mideast analyst Frank Gaffney and syndicated columnist Cal Thomas.
Perle also accepted the Sen. Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson Award for strengthening the role of values and vision in politics.
"We find the traditions of both of these men [Perle and Jackson] to be firmly entrenched amongst many decision makers in both Jerusalem and Washington, D.C.," said Summit Director Dmitry Radyshevsky, former Moscow News New York bureau chief and Harvard Divinity School graduate who moved to Israel four years ago.
Radyshevsky serves as the executive director of the Michael Cherney Foundation, the primary sponsor of the conference, along with the Ministry of Tourism and the National Unity Coalition for Israel, an organization representing 200 groups of both faiths. Cherney, a Russian businessman and philanthropist, started his foundation on June 1, 2001, in order to help Russian victims and families of the Dolphinarium disco bombing, which occurred across from his office, killing 21 and injuring more than 150 others.
"At some point, we realized that we had to fight the root of terrorism, not just aid the victims," said Radyshevsky, who was the public face and driving force behind the summit, which was planned half a year ago and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to stage. The summit put forth a four-point declaration, calling radical Islam a threat to civilization, the United Nations a failure, Israel in need of defense and the war on terror a righteous cause.
Whether this summit represents a new coalition of the right or a one-time spark remains to be seen.
"It's not enough to have money," one attendee said privately, "you have to have momentum."
The Bush Doctrine and the use of military force were not the only alternatives presented to the current road map. Minister of Tourism Elon, head of the Moledet Party, also unveiled at the summit his peace plan, "The Right Road to Peace," which basically calls for the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority and the international recognition of Jordan as the Palestinian state, with the Arab residents of the West Bank becoming citizens of the Palestinian state in Jordan.
The Elon Plan was released just as "The Geneva Accord" peace proposal was made public from Egypt by former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin and Arafat adviser Abed Rabo. The new Geneva accord offers Palestinians a state in the West Bank in return for relinquishing the right of return. This new plan, which has not been recognized by the Israeli government, is based on U.N. resolution 194, which allows refugees to choose between return and compensation.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is said to have described the document as "the greatest historical mistake since Oslo," and tried to marginalize the drafters as people on the fringe. But whether this will be a one-time spark or a continuing effort remains to be seen. "They need to get more sophisticated," one invited speaker said.
As the Geneva Accord took the main stage in the Mideast, the Jerusalem Summit continued, and even invigorated the members' desire to unite and find an alternative.
"They are talking to people who are active terrorists," said David Bedein, the bureau chief of the Israel Resource News Agency and attendee of the conference, who said the Jerusalem Summit is now more important than ever. "What this conference has done is get all the different people who think that peace can be achieved through means other than the Oslo process ... together to talk to each other."
He said that the conference would produce results such as having more academics present papers, and having people become more media savvy.
But regardless of the future results, what the conference has done has allowed people of similar thought to feel, for once, they said, like more than a fringe minority.
Novelist Naomi Ragen, who has penned best-sellers on the religious world, such as "Sotah," puts out a daily newsletter on her Web site on the situation in the Middle East.
"What this conference does for me is to help me feel that I'm not alone."