Rabbis and Imans for Zionism

The nine month agreed period of US sponsored negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians has now expired. The politicians have failed to agree to speak to each other. It is not surprising that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abu Mazan did not reach agreement. They barely spoke to each other they only spoke to themselves – there was no dialogue.

The lack of dialogue mirrors the population at large. Peace is not just about discussions and signing an agreement on paper. Peace is about consensus and living side-by-side between and among millions of people to set the past behind them and to move forward in sharing. Israelis and Palestinians have not reached this stage. It is not surprising therefore that the political leaders didn’t reach agreement. The only hope for a way forward is for the true leaders, the religious leaders, to speak out – if they want peace.

The Israel-Palestinian negotiations floundered because they didn’t encompass all parties to the dispute; and because they prioritized the wrong issues. For the last nine months the negotiations have been between political leaders; the religious leaders have been absent. The negotiations have focused on the exchange of land for peace; whereas they should have focused on the sharing of land, resources and holy sites for peaceful coexistence. The Israel-Palestinian negotiations should have studied sharing rather than dividing as a way forward.

Where are the religious leaders in the Israel-Palestinian negotiations? Despite the affinity to Europe and the disdain for the Arab world there are lessons to be observed for the Rabbis and Imans. Europe is the home of Antisemitism and the Holocaust; with reluctant acceptance of Israeli sovereignty. The issue is less territorial – they hate the Jews more than Israel. The Arab world is the home of anti-Zionism with silent acknowledgement of Judaism. The issue is more territorial – they hate Israel more than the Jews.

A way forward for negotiators is to focus on the religious commonalities that are less disputed. Building bridges and trust starts with commonalities. This is instead of focusing on the territorial issue that is very disputed. Both sides are closer in religion than in politics. It was both the Bible and the Koran that wrote that Abraham / Ibrahim had two sons; Isaac and his decedents became the Jews; while Ishmael and his decedents became the Moslems. When Abraham died both Ishmael and Isaac buried him; as brothers should. An agreement between the current religious leaders will bury some of the differences and may break the stalemated negotiations on the territorial disputes over Jerusalem, Hebron, Nablus and other sites holy to both religions. The disputes should not be about territorial ownership but about access to pray.

For twenty years the political leaders have been stalemated in deciding how Jerusalem could be the capital to two states. There has been no meeting between the Rabbis and the Imans over the proposed division of the city. For any division to be acceptable to Jerusalem’s residents it will require an agreement between the Rabbi of the Western Wall and the Waqf of the Dome of the Rock. To date the Rabbi and the Waqf have not been invited to join the political negotiations sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry.

The nine month period of direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians that began on 29 July 2013, sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry, has now ended with no agreement. This week Israel will celebrate  66 years of independence, and of war. It is time for peace; not just signed agreements between politicians but between the people that have fought countless wars and live in terror.

I suggest that John Kerry and his appointed negotiator Martin Indyk turn their attention in the direction of religious leaders rather than political leaders. I have no doubt that a Rabbi and Iman shaking hands and agreeing to peaceful religious coexistence and sharing sites holy to more than one religion will be a welcoming catalyst for the territorial negotiations of the peace process.

The failing negotiations show that politicians cannot agree in a top-down settlement. So the peace process needs to be bottom-up initiated and settled by religious leaders – if they want peace.

About the Author
Dr Glen Segell is Fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa.