NEW YORK – Welcome back from the Middle East, Ambassador George Mitchell. If there was any doubt in your mind before you left, you must now know how complex any negotiation toward a comprehensive peace between the Israelis and Palestinians will be. You have been on the job only a few weeks, and already factions in the region are complaining that you represent warmed-over Bush administration policy with a new face.
But there is a growing consensus among moderates in both Israel and Palestine that peace is not only achievable, but essential to building a strong and eventually unified economy in the region. Instead of endless cycles of destruction and recrimination, the Middle East can be a vibrant engine of economic development. The latest round of Hamas rockets firing into Israel and Israeli retaliation accomplished little besides sinking the region into greater despair.
Now that you’ve returned, we want to offer a few things for you to think about.
A peace agreement signed reluctantly by secular governments will have a hard time succeeding. Any agreement must be built from the ground up by engaging civil society groups, especially religious organisations, to provide a broad base of support.
Religion is often seen as the root cause of the conflict. We hear again and again that "radical Islamic fundamentalists" want to destroy Israel. And we hear that Jews believe they have a God-given right to control all of the Holy Land. We hear very little about the underlying fundamentals of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. These are three faiths based on the Abrahamic principle that the purpose of humankind is to praise God and to help each other. The tenets of each religion provide common ground to work out the underlying issues of power and control that actually are at the root of the conflict.
Your appointment to this delicate job is encouraging because of your experience in negotiating peace in Northern Ireland. Some of the issues there were the same. That conflict appeared to be rooted in religious strife between Protestants and Catholics. But you were able to work with both religious groups to bring about a settlement.
Religious organisations of all faiths in the Middle East recognise their importance to the peace process and are ready to do their part. Last November, the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, representing Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders, called for their inclusion in the peace process. Rabbi David Rosen said a political solution cannot be achieved unless the underlying religious dimension is addressed. And Patriarch Michel Sabbah insisted, "We are not the problem, we are part of the solution."
Just last month, the Community of Religious Leaders associated with the World Economic Forum meeting in Switzerland issued a statement saying religion must be part of the solution in the Middle East. It called on the political leadership, especially Ambassador Mitchell, to engage Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders.
A peace based on the will of leaders is fragile because leaders are changeable and subject to popular passions. A true peace requires reconciliation among peoples. Reconciliation and forgiveness are at the core of all three religions.
So please, Ambassador Mitchell, include the mosques, include the temples, and include the churches as you lay the groundwork for a lasting peace. There you will find allies you need to overcome the fears and bitterness that now permeate the Holy Land.
* Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, an independent, non-partisan and multi-national project that works with state and non-state actors to improve Muslim-West relations. He is the author of "What's Right with Islam is What's Right With America". This article appeared in the McClatchy Tribune News Service and is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from The Cordoba Initiative.
Source: McClatchy Washington Bureau, 23 February 2009, http://www.mcclatchydc.com.
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