- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 20, 2006

The new Palestinian leadership must use its pragmatism and belief in God to alter the destiny of its people and walk them to the “promised land” because they have suffered enough.

The long history of the Holy Land attests to the fact no other place has seen so much glory and despair or touched the souls of so many. It has shaped the destiny of its inhabitants and witnessed the rise and fall of many ancient empires.

For nearly a century, Israelis and Palestinians have been at war. During the time they have inflicted terrible wounds on each other. Governed by misguided leaders, the two peoples have acted out of blind hatred and animosity, poisoning generation after generation defying the very premise of the religious connection of both peoples to the land. So its sacred soil is defiled.

Every time I travel to the Holy Land, I visit the Haram Al-Sharif, the Temple Mount. There I linger, watching scores of Muslims flock to the great Golden Dome of the Rock and Al Aksa Mosque. They come to pray to Allah for his mercy and compassion and to pay homage to his messenger Mohammed.

I make my way down the steps to the Western Wall of the Temple (known as the Wailing Wall), destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 75. Thousands of Jews visit this entrancing edifice daily to relive history or watch it unfold. Some come to pray; others to seek salvation; still others, to repent. Some visit and ponder; others pray for absolution. Some are on a simple human quest, while others gape in wonder, spellbound by the imposing wall and what it means to them.

Across an invisible, deepening emotional divide, Arabs and Jews weep silently for the loss of loved ones, victims of merciless violent conflict, and pray for an end to the tragedy that has befallen them. Separate, yet together in their yearning, both peoples pray for peace. Here they are, the holiest shrines for Jews and Muslims, juxtaposed, with no possibility of either side altering anything in these sacred settings. Every stone, every gesture or movement has the same message: There is no escape from cohabitation, no way out of coexistence. Separate but inseparable, this is the destiny of Jews and Muslims. The echoes of Arab and Jewish prayers mingle in the air, reaching out to the same God.

The dream of Israelis to live in their ancient homeland and that of Palestinians to have a state of their own do not cancel each other. Rather, they provide the sole basis for sharing the land equitably, though under separate rule.

The ancient world thrust Israelis and Palestinians together. Now, in our own time, the children of Abraham have returned home to join their cousins. This is neither a historical accident nor an aberration of time and space. The Wall and the Dome of the Rock summoned them together long before the first Palestinian youth and Israeli child died in the current inferno.

The radicals on both sides must remember that the campaign to dislodge each other from the land will fail because Israeli-Palestinian coexistence is a historic reality anchored in a religious promise more powerful than blind fanaticism and deeper than their perverted convictions.

How many more deaths of Israelis and Palestinians must God witness in silence? How much more blood must spill? How much more destruction and despair must these two peoples endure? How could this land, the cradle of three great religions, have become the killing fields for its sons and daughters, victims of extremism, delusion, and the tragic denial of each others’ rights? Hamas can kill another 100 or 1,000 Israelis; thousands of Palestinians can be expelled or shot to death, but then what? Israelis and Palestinians will be facing each other.

As both sides reposition themselves, they will talk with one another, simply because there is no other option. Except the hatred will run even deeper, and mutual fear and suspicion will extinguish the last vestiges of trust, taint every gesture and action. The loss of human live and the sustained suffering will have taken their toll, further scarring hearts and minds, making negotiations increasingly intractable.

Israel does not need Hamas’ recognition or acceptance of previous agreements with the Palestinian Authority. If Hamas insist on violent resistance, the Palestinians will unfortunately suffer far more disproportionately than Israelis ever will.

Israel is a reality whose existence is beyond the capacity of Hamas to alter by any means, including force. Only by recognizing Israel and adhering to existing internationally accepted agreements can the Palestinians secure a place under the sun based on a two-state solution. The majority, the mainstream Israelis and Palestinians, believe in coexistence, believe in their mutual right to live on the same land, believe they share the same destiny and must live and let live to make the Holy Land truly a land of milk and honey.

In this holy setting, a breakthrough vision is needed to create a larger promise. The salvation of the souls of both peoples and the redemption of the soil must be the task at hand. If religious teachings and practice ardently invoked in support of Palestinian historic rights have any bearing, then God has already spoken.

ALON BEN-MEIR

Professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University and is the Middle East Project Director at the World Policy Institute, New York.


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