Religious dimensions to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations
By Ori Z Soltes
Israeli-Palestinian negotiation--like the Middle East overall--encompasses a complex interweave of issues: politics, nationalism, ethnicity, economics, and above all, religion. Israel's Jewish population covers the gamut from cultural secularists to ultra-Orthodox--including those within this last category who don't recognize the state's existence, because they assert that it was not brought into being through divinely orchestrated messianic intervention. There are powerful issues of distrust along this spectrum, stemming from a range of matters--from the question of who determines marriage and funerary rights to who must serve in the army.
While the majority of Jewish Israelis accept and a large number enthusiastically embrace the idea of a Palestinian state, there are those, particularly among the ultra-Orthodox, who believe that to cede any piece of property between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River (or even beyond the Jordan) to non-Jewish control is to abrogate God's wish and God's will for the Jewish people. It is this mentality that led to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin a decade ago. Among Jewish settlers in different parts of the West Bank--Judaea and Samaria, as Israelis refer to that area by its historical designations--are those who argue that Jews have both a right and an obligation to be living there.
So, too, Israel's Christian population is as diverse as the Jews are. The complications of this diversity are well exemplified by the fact that the key to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, arguably the most sacred Christian site in Israel, has for generations been in the hands of a Muslim caretaker, because the various Christian groups don't trust each other sufficiently.
Of particular importance for the discussion of current Israel-Palestine negotiations are Evangelical Christians--both within and, even more so, outside Israel--most of whom almost blindly support whatever stance Israel takes, including the expansion of settlements within the territories. In part this derives from a conviction, perhaps but not necessarily post-Holocaust-based, that the Jewish state deserves unqualified Christian support. But more often it derives from Evangelical belief that the fulfillment of the Hebrew biblical promise of an "ingathering of all the (Jewish) exiles" into Israel will lead to Jewish recognition of Jesus as the Messiah and in turn to his return to earth.
Of course the Palestinian side of this religious equation is no simpler. There are Christian Palestinians but a majority of them are Muslim. There are Shi'a Palestinian Muslims but the majority of them are Sunni. There are further subdivisions within the Palestinian Muslim Sunni and Shi'a communities as there are elsewhere in the Muslim world. More to the point, Muslims overall ask themselves whether or not the principle of dhimma applies to these negotiations. "Dhimma" means "pact"--and refers to the arrangement believed to have been arrived at between Muhammad and the Jews of Khaybar in 627-8 CE, according to which Jews could continue to practice their faith freely but without the right, among other things, to be in political control of any area inhabited by Muslims. Eventually the term dhimmi--"People of the Pact"--came to apply to Christians and Zoroastrians as well, and to practitioners of any other faith centered on a divinely inspired text.
The question is whether the dhimma was established by Muhammad or promulgated by God through Muhammad. So the matter becomes: Can religious Muslims permit an independent dhimmi state within the heart of the larger Muslim world? Conversely, can religious Jews allow a non-Jewish state to flourish within the land that they believe God intended for them to control? Can either population dwell under the political hegemony of the other? Can Christians be part of intermediating a solution or are they part of the problem?
All of this constitutes only one thread within the larger tangle that includes questions of borders, Jerusalem, settlements, and the "Law of Return" within a web of politics, ethnicity, nationalism and economics as well as religion. We must continue to hope for success in these discussions but not assume that success can be easily achieved.
Ori Z Soltes teaches in the Theology Department and in the Program in Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University. He is the author of Untangling the Web: Why the Middle East is a Mess and Always Has Been (Bartleby Press, 2010).
teaches in the Theology Department and in the Program in Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University. He is the author of Untangling the Web: Why the Middle East is a Mess and Always Has Been (Bartleby Press, 2010).
Posted by: abrahamhab1 | October 7, 2010 11:52 PM
Report Offensive Comment
Posted by: FarnazMansouri2 | October 7, 2010 10:17 PM
Report Offensive Comment
The comments to this entry are closed.