from The Washington Post
Mideast peace talks resume this week, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveling to Egypt and Israel for negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Is religion helping or hurting the attempt to forge peace between the Jewish state and the Palestinians?
Until Palestinian political leaders and the Palestinian people accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, peace talks will continue to be a meaningless charade. While the Islam that Hamas espouses may currently play a damaging role in the Palestinian’s quest for statehood, religion does not play a key role in the conflict. If Hamas were to conquer the West Bank, their terrorist methods combined with their radical Islamic faith would make any peace talks impossible. Currently, while the Palestinian Authority “represents” Palestine, this is a conflict over land, not religion. Four key issues must be handled before real negotiations on Palestinian statehood actually commence.
First, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas must affirm Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. This has little to do with Judaism. Israel was founded as a place of refuge for all Jews of varying religious commitment. Yes, the Jewish faith plays an important role in Israel’s affairs but it is the people, not the different versions of Judaism, who define Israel. So long as Hamas calls for the destruction of the “Zionist entity” and the Palestinian Authority refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, there will never be a meaningful agreement on peace or Palestinian statehood.
Second, Israelis will refuse to cede much, if not all, of East Jerusalem to a future Palestinian state. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, the home of its Knesset, Supreme Court, Prime Minister, and President. Let us not forget that it was Jordanians who fled East Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War as Israel advanced. It was Arab states that joined Egypt in attacking Israel that surrendered East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Without their provocations, Israel would not have waged a unilateral war for those territories. Now, more than forty years, Palestinians must at least accept East Jerusalem as part of Israel, if not its capital.
Throughout history, various Israeli leaders have said parts of East Jerusalem were on the negotiating table, yet this was never enough for Palestinians. Palestinians must no longer cling to East Jerusalem at the expense of meaningful discussing regarding areas of greater concern for the vast majority of Palestinian people.
Third, much is in the news about Israeli settlements. What happened when Israel closed down and evacuated all of the settlements in Gaza while at the same time removing Israeli military forces? Hamas, a foreign terrorist organization, took over the territory and now tensions are higher than ever before. There has already been one war, the 2008 Gaza War, and so long as Hamas is in power, there will likely be another.
Let’s assume for a moment that Israel went so far as evacuating all Jewish settlements in the West Bank and removed its military forces. If this occurred, what would it actually mean for peace talks? Very little. This may prolong the talks for another year or two, but so long as Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and continue to claim all of East Jerusalem as a necessary part of a future Palestinian state, there will be no peace and no Palestinian state.
And lastly, so long as Hamas controls the Gaza Strip there will not be a Palestinian state encompassing the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Hamas is now the greatest barrier to Palestinian statehood and peace in the region. Currently, President Obama is attempting to broker a two state solution with only West Bank Palestinians being represented in negotiations. Assuming that Israel’s Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority’s Abbas miraculously came to a workable agreement, where would that leave the 1.5 million Palestinians within the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip? Surely, there can be no comprehensive peace deal without all of the key players signing on.
Until the terrorist regime of Hamas falls, peace talks between Israel and the somewhat powerless Palestinian Authority will lack substance and be little more than photo opportunities for US government leaders.
If the United States and Western governments stopped pressuring Israelis and Palestinians to meet and discuss “peace”, there would be no discussions. As is now custom, US Presidents try to broker a “peace” deal once in their term. So far, none of these talks or agreements has bettered the long-term situation for Palestinians or Israelis.
When Israelis and Palestinians decide to negotiate on their own terms, without pressure from international mediators, we may correctly classify those negotiations as peace talks. Until that happens, these forced meetings will continue to be futile.