By RUFUS G.W. Sanders
Now, after about seven years of doing nothing about the Palestinian issue, the Bush administration has convened a summit on what to do about Palestine and Israel. For my money, this is too little to late and more about show, legacy building and photo-ops than actually solving what might be the most complex political issue in the world.
President Bush, in his concluding statements of what appeared to be a very short summit, talked about wanting to create democracy first and a state second. This is the same kind of twisted understanding of politics he used to frame his reasoning for staying in Iraq -- to create democracy. It appears to me a state must be created first, and then it is up to the people who live there who must vote it a democracy.
To Bush's credit, though, he is the first American president who has actually used the word "state" in conversation about the Palestinian question, even though he builds on rhetoric used in the Carter administration by then American Ambassador to the U.N., Andrew Young (who incidentally lost his job over meeting with the Palestinians) and the stellar work President Clinton did with the Oslo Accords and at the Camp David II talks, when he got Israeli premier Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to agree to the creation of a Palestinian state.
Of course it was Arafat who had no vision, couldn't see beyond his nose while being caught up in his own self-interest, who squandered the chance for a least a place called Palestine.
The problem with this new Annapolis Summit is that it really addresses nothing. I guess the good thing is that it was able to pull together such a large Arab delegation with even the Syrians sending a delegation. But two things were most troubling: The Iranians were not invited along with representatives from Hamas -- and the No. 1 issue that must be resolved before there can be any peace was never brought up: what to do about Jerusalem.
You see, until the issue of Jerusalem is addressed there can be no peace.
The status of Jerusalem has always been the most contentious issue in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Jerusalem is ground zero in the dispute and has been every since the rise of Zionism and especially talk of partition following British occupation after World War II. All of the American talks since the Nixon plan had three major points at its core: Palestinian autonomy, the unification of Jerusalem and the recognition of Israel. All seem like legitimate concerns, but until it is determined and agreed who gets the opportunity to rule Jerusalem there will never be peace in the Middle East.
The terms of the U.N. partition of 1947 call for Jerusalem to be an international city shared between a Jewish and Palestinian state. Israel annexed West Jerusalem after its war of independence and East Jerusalem -- which is primarily Arab and which includes the Dome of the Rock and the west wall -- after the 1967 war. At this point, conceding control is a major item for many Israelis who consider Jerusalem to be the heart of Zionism and Jewish identity itself. They are not willing to negotiate this point. The Palestinian viewpoint is the historic territorial claims of the holy sites -- the Dome of the Rock, which sits on the western wall of the remains of the Jewish Temple Mount, but which is also the third holiest site in Islam.
There does seem to be optimism about taking another look at this very complex situation. Even though there have been wars fought over the issue of Jerusalem, there have also been, within each religious tradition of the monotheistic faiths of Christianity, Islam and Judaism, periods of openness, tolerance and acceptance of the other monotheistic faiths. And there have been times where Muslims, Christians and Jews have lived together in peace and political harmony. It's only when Jewish zealots, Christian radicals, and Muslim Islamists have been in control that things has gone completely wild.
If this latest summit is going to be successful, maybe this time there should be included at some level not just governmental and political leaders, but leading representatives from each religion as well. If anyone could emphasize the importance of tolerant elements and insist spirituality does not come with the exclusivity of territorial claims over Jerusalem, it would be them. Given the apparent atmosphere of optimism, religious leaders could help to neutralize the fundamentalists of all three religions who continue to promote and practice hatred and violence in the name of God.