Saturday, March 13, 2010

Can the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Be Resolved?

by Richard Crews
When President Obama appointed George Mitchell special envoy to the Middle East, there was a gasp of hope in political circles around the world. Mitchell was renowned as a negotiator and peacemaker; he had been instrumental in bringing the Irish and the English to end their long, bloody conflict. But, as one Israeli noted, that struggle had "only" been brewing and stewing for 300 years; the bitterness between the Israelis and Palestinians dated back thousands.

Three great worldwide religions--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam--all covet the land of Israel, particularly the capital city of Jerusalem. For Jews, Jerusalem is the holiest of cities, established as the capital of the Jewish Nation a thousand years before Christ. For Christians, Jerusalem is the place where Christ was crucified; it is where he made his ultimate sacrifice for humanity. And, although not mentioned in the Qur'an, Jerusalem is the third holiest city of Islam, after only Mecca and Medina. There are, within that one small city, the highest of holy sites for all three religions.

Those three great religions--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam--actually have a lot in common. They are all profoundly peace-loving and civilizing with many of the same tenets of belief and practice. In fact they are called "the Abrahamic religions": all three take their historical roots from Abraham. For Jews and Christians he was "the father of the people of Israel"; for Muslims, the "prophet of Islam" and a direct ancestor of Muhammad.

But the three have suffered a stormy relationship over the millennia--often with bloodshed, even slaughter. None of the three, particularly the Jews and Muslims, would be content to see the other in political control of their holy places.

Perhaps Jerusalem could become an international city under United Nations' political control. All religions would be assured access to their holy places. But even that resolution would be difficult for people who have come to be such bitter rivals.

There is a second problem confronting resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. After the Second World War the Jewish people, who were scattered around the world, were given their own homeland. They came to Israel by the millions, to settle, to draw sustenance from the dry lands and deserts, to build a nation, to establish a democracy and a Western-style economy--and they prospered. But in recent decades their homeland has been overrun by non-Jews. In many places throughout Israel a truly democratic system of government would exclude the Jews from the halls of political power. They would, in fact, be replaced and ruled by their bitter historical rivals.

Is there a solution to these two problems--a way that the three great religions can share the holy city of Jerusalem? A way that the Jewish people can honor democracy and their neighbors without losing their homeland?

Perhaps the future knows. I do not.