Obstacles to Israeli-Palestinian Peace
ABDURRAHMAN WAHID and ABDUL A'LA
Saturday, May 10, 2008 12:01 a.m. EDT
The prolonged Israeli-Palestinian conflict has a far-reaching impact
not only upon the lives of those who dwell in the Holy Land, but upon
virtually every nation and community on earth. On a daily basis,
self-interested parties are callously manipulating the most basic values
of humanity and religion in order to advance their personal or political
interests. Sectarianism, violence, arrogance and deception are
constantly subverting the fundamental values of life, and turning
religious principles upon their heads.
This horrific process demands that every moral human being, religious
community and nation throughout the world contemplate this tragedy and
offer assistance, however small, to help resolve the profound human
crisis in the Holy Land. Peace is both a process and a goal that the
world can neither morally nor practically afford to push off into the
future yet again.
We must develop and implement concrete strategies to resolve the
conflict, while inspiring hope that peace can actually be achieved. The
problem is that the various obstacles to peace seem nearly impossible to
eliminate. These obstacles are rendered even more severe by the fact
that both major parties in the conflict harbor groups absolutely
convinced of the correctness of their mutually exclusive views and
agendas. Such groups reject not only the rights, but the very existence,
of the other side.
The corrosive effect of this phenomenon is the evocation and
rationalization of the use of violence, either through terrorism or
militarism. Prejudiced views on both sides, not only by those directly
engaged in the conflict, but by their allies as well, further stoke the
flames of hatred and violence.
These prejudices contaminate public discourse throughout the world,
and are constantly exploited by Middle Eastern regimes that fuel
anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic emotions for political purposes, while
displaying little or no actual concern for the well-being of the
Under such conditions, it is nearly impossible for sincere dialogue
even to occur, much less to develop or flourish. Instead, the cycle of
violence breeds a hardening of mutual hatred.
The Palestinian side routinely condemns its enemy as a colonial power
whose entire population is demonized as "imperialists," while the
Israeli side brands its political opponents as terrorists, or terrorist
For six decades, the peace process has been conducted primarily by
self-interested political players who cannot penetrate to the heart of
the underlying problems, much less resolve them. This gives rise to
deeply cynical views on the part of certain groups on both sides, who
view the peace process as absurd, its goals unobtainable, and continued
violence better than compromise.
Yet the difficulties that have swamped every
Israeli-Palestinian peace process to date do not mean that achieving
peace is impossible. Rather, they point to the need for a new and more
holistic path to peace in the Middle East. This path would mobilize the
populations of Israel and Palestine toward this goal, with the active
encouragement and support of the rest of the world.
The December 2007 visit to Israel and Palestine by a group of
Indonesian ulama from the world's two largest Muslim organizations –
LibForAll Foundation and the Indonesian Peace Delegation – represents
one such effort, and the first step in a larger, systematic process.
Conducted under the joint aegis of LibForAll Foundation and the Simon
Wiesenthal Center, members of the group consistently observed that the
silent majorities on both sides of the conflict sincerely desire an end
to the cycle of violence, and peace for themselves and their children.
This is remarkable, given the decades of incitement to hatred and
violence in Palestinian mosques, schools and mass media, and a political
culture that eschews compromise.
It is tragic that the voice of the people – full of an honest and
sincere longing for peace – should be drowned out by violence and the
narrow interests of politicians and extremists on both sides. We have a
responsibility to amplify the voices of the innocent who pay with their
blood and sorrow the price of others' ambitions and hatred.
We must also strengthen and facilitate the people's efforts to
pressure their political elites – in a manner that is focused, intense
and vocal, yet simultaneously civilized – to create a just and lasting
Palestinians and Israelis need the world's support to create a new
reality, in which the highest values of religion and humanity are
restored to their proper dignity. We must also help Muslim populations –
not only in Palestine, but throughout the Arab world – to rise to
embrace a profoundly spiritual and tolerant understanding of Islam, and
a humanistic attitude toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that
acknowledges the legacy of suffering on all sides. Such an attitude is a
necessary precondition for recognizing Israel's unique history and right
to exist, while truly advancing the interests of Palestinians as well.
Last year's LibForAll/Indonesian Peace mission to Israel and
Palestine was designed to initiate such a process. After the religious
leaders who participated returned to Indonesia, they faced intense
condemnation from Muslim extremists, who accused them of having betrayed
their Palestinian brethren and embarrassed Indonesia's Muslim community.
Yet there is nothing shameful about working to realize the highest
values of religion – which God intended to serve as a blessing, and not
a curse, to all of humanity.
Although the obstacles to peace in the Holy Land
may appear insurmountable, it is the responsibility of religious leaders
on all sides to attempt the impossible, and to accept whatever threats,
slander and stigma may follow.
Mr. Wahid is the former president of Indonesia and co-founder of
LibForAll Foundation. Mr. A'la is an associate dean of graduate studies
at Sunan Ampel Islamic State University in Surabaya, Indonesia.
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