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Israel seeks to pit Christian Arabs against Muslims in a cruel clash

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The idea has been brewing for decades, but was unrealizable because Israel could not find, as it did with the Druze, a Christian religious leader willing to cooperate. It now has one in the figure of a senior Nazareth cleric, Jibril Nadaf.

Mr. Nadaf gave his blessing to a conference last year staged by the defense ministry to promote military service among the Christian scout movements. Community leaders who denounced him have been interrogated by the security services on suspicion of incitement.

Israel is trumpeting its success in tripling the number of Christian teenagers drafted over the past year. But the numbers are still small.

Israel has sought to capitalize on this moment by highlighting to Christians the supposed dangers posed by the Arab Spring. Israeli officials suggest that the growing power of Islamic movements is a warning that the region's Christians need to ally with the Jewish state.

Mr Nadaf now speaks in similar terms. He recently said: "Our goal is to protect the Holy Land and the State of Israel." Only Christians helping Israel, he added, were "following the path of Christianity."

Jonathan Cook: Israel seeks to pit Christian Arabs against Muslims in a cruel clash

Benjamin Netanyahu meets Jibril Nadaf

Israel's fingerprints are not hard to spot on these developments. Last month a new political party was formed in Nazareth running on a joint Christian-Jewish ticket and advocating conscription for Christians. Its founder is the brother of the defense ministry's adviser on Christian affairs, Ehab Shilyan.

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This dangerous meddling in the delicate relations between Christians and Muslims inside Israel could easily lead to violence and bloodshed. But Israel is unlikely to care when the benefits are manifold.

Palestinian Christians have been key figures in the fight for equal rights inside Israel, a struggle that has deeply embarrassed Israel by threatening to expose the structural inequality required by a Jewish state.

Israel would prefer to weaken this kind of internal secular Palestinian politics, leaving the field to the Islamic extremists.

Christians in Israel have also been powerful advocates for international campaigns against Israel, using their connections to promote the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement building among overseas church groups -- what Israel terms "de-legitimization."

Repositioning Palestinian Christians on Israel's side would take the wind out of that campaign.

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But perhaps most important, Israel would prefer that Christians reject the Palestinian variant of liberation theology and adopt the Christian Zionism that dominates in the US, Israel's chief sponsor.

The Christian Zionists believe Jews and Christians are heading towards an apocalyptic showdown with Islam.

All of this is designed to corral Israel's Muslim population into a corner, creating a much cleaner narrative for Israel in which Jews and Christians are brothers guarding the ramparts. But more likely Israel risks ensuring its clash of civilizations thesis becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)

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