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McManus - Ethics & Religion
November 27, 2007
Column #1,370
Peace Between Christians, Jews & Muslims?
By Mike McManus

This week President Bush hosted a meeting in Annapolis, MD between Israeli and Palestinian leaders attended by 49 countries and international organizations including all Arab nations. His goal was to restart negotiations that could lead to creation of "a stable, peaceful Palestinian state" as Bush put it, living side-by-side with Israel.

Skeptics cited many reasons for pessimism regarding the outcome.  Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's popularity has plunged below 20 percent since the 2006 war with Lebanon. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas lost control of Gaza in a 2006 election to Hamas, a terrorist group backed by Iran that refuses to recognize the legitimacy of Israel.

However, I see two important reasons for hope - one political and the other, religious.

First, it is extremely encouraging that all Arab counties such as Saudi Arabia and Syria - historic opponents of Israel - participated. For the Palestinians, it is as if 21 Big Brothers put their arms around the weak Palestinian people who have lived in territory harshly occupied by Israel, as if to say, "We will help you create a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as capital."

For Israel, the wide Arab participation offers hope for recognition and peace with hostile neighbors in exchange for Israel's cooperation in creating an independent Palestinian state.

On Monday in Gaza Hamas's leader Ismail Haniya asserted, "Let the whole world hear us: We will not relinquish a centimeter of Palestine, and we will not recognize Israel." Another Hamas leader added, "Palestinian land is from the sea to the river," referring to the Jordan River, "and from the Lebanon-Syrian border to the North to the Egyptian borders." Any normalization of relations "with the enemy is a treason."

However, such vitriol, backed up with funding from Iran, is a major reason the Arab world might finally support the effort, pushing Palestinians to negotiate out of fear of Iran's rising influence.

President Bush met with both Olmert and Abbas on Monday, helping both sides draft a joint statement in which they agree on a timetable for negotiations over the next year, with a deadline for a final peace deal by the end of the Bush Administration. Negotiations between Olmert and Abbas will begin in December.

Genuine agreement on final status issues will be difficult. For example, Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister, told reporters Monday that Palestinian refugees who fled Israel over the past 59 years, should be allowed to return.  To Israel, that is out of the question.

However, Prince Saud said, "Here's an issue where people not from Palestine come to Palestine, occupied land in Palestine that happened to have people living there, and now they want to consider these people illegal in a purely Jewish homeland. Why? If you come to a neighborhood by your choice, you have to live with the people in the neighborhood."

After six years of avoiding the Israeli-Palestinian issue, Bush seems to finally understand that the Palestinian issue is at the root of Islamic distrust of the United States, and is fueling the recruitment of Islamic terrorists who go to Iraq to fight the jihad with America.

Israel has already hinted it is willing to cede part of Arab East Jerusalem to be the site of a new Capital of Palestine. That is where the Al Aqsa Mosque is located, the third holiest site for Muslims.  However, it is also built upon the "Temple Mount," the site of Herod's temple, which is a sacred site for Jews.  Jewish demonstrators were protesting any such concession this week.

However, there is another ground for hope.  Guess who wrote these words recently:

"Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world's population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world. The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.

"The basis for this peace and understanding already exists. It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God, and love of neighbour. These principles are found over and over again in the sacred texts of Islam and Christianity."

This is a "Common Word between Us and You," which was written and signed by 138 world Muslim leaders, such as top Muslims of Nigeria, Chad and Jordan plus such U.S. leaders as Nihad Award, President of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

This initiative has already sparked a strong written response from 350 Christian leaders - great news in this Advent season preparing for the birth of the Prince of Peace.


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