2007-07-13 / Columnists

The Progressive

Commentary By John Paul Culotta

Peace Or Real Estate? "Power, Faith, and Fantasy America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present," written by Michael B. Oren, is a comprehensive, detailed survey of our nation's relationship to that most volatile part of the world. It is an interesting examination of how religion, power politics, ignorance and prejudice have turned the Middle East into the powder keg that it is today.

Oren, who lives in Jerusalem and is a senior fellow at the Shalem Center, gives what I consider to be a balanced and fair description of how all parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict contributed to the chaos.

The book demonstrates that, from the beginning of our republic, we have debated the proper role that force and trade play in the Middle East region as it relates to America's global interests.

It also shows there were many American Christians who wished the Holy Land returned to the Jewish people when Zionism was unpopular in this country, even among American Jews.

There were Christians in America since the early days of the republic who advocated for a restoration of Jewish sovereignty in the Holy Land. Many Christians believed that the Jews would then accept Christ as their redeemer.

There always has been a debate among Jews in this country as to how to present themselves to the rest of the American public.

Most Christians have been raised to view Jewish-Americans as loyal to the republic, as good neighbors and friends, and as contributors to the American society. I often think of Irving Berlin, who wrote a patriotic song and seasonal songs that all Americans love.

Berlin, who was a major contributor to many American charities, donated the campground that my daughter attended when she was young to the Boy Scouts. All Americans owe a debt to Berlin and all Jewish-Americans who contributed to our cultural life, economy, academics, and government service.

When I was a young man, an elderly Jewish refugee told me, "America was good to the Jews." I would add that the Jews were good for America.

We also owe a debt of gratitude to Americans from the Arab world, both Moslem and Christian, who have contributed to our United States.

Too often we forget that immigration from the Middle East has occurred in our past and not just in recent years.

Danny Thomas and Ralph Nader are two examples of Americans who have origins in the Middle East.

As Oren points out in his book, immigration from the Middle East in the past mostly involved Arab Christians. Now we have many Moslems from the Middle East, especially in cities such as Dearborn, Michigan.

We often forget that the conflict in Iraq, Palestine and Israel has a negative effect on the Christians in the region. Christian church property has been divided by the building of the security wall by Israel.

Christians, especially the Coptic, Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox, are now persecuted, particularly in Iraq and Egypt. As a Christian, I feel my government or the governments of the region and Europe have not addressed the plight of Christians in the region. Lebanon bleeds and Christians are threatened every day. Religious leaders and their flocks of all faiths need to speak truth to power.

At the same time, we must recognize that sometimes the interests of Israel are not the same as America's. Our dependence on foreign petroleum is an important factor to consider. We must rely on other sources of energy or we are faced with financing governments that are unfriendly. At this time, we are too friendly with nations that are hostile to our nation and Israel because of petroleum needs.

We need to form our foreign policy on the interests of our society and world peace - not on domestic political demands.

Most of us- myself included - feel Israel should be a haven for persecuted Jews from around the world. At the same time, blind allegiance to Israel may not be in that nation's own best interest.

Israel must have peace to survive. It will only achieve peace if it recognizes that an elected government, no matter how despicable, needs to be at the bargaining table. Choosing a political side that Israel feels it can deal with will only empower the more radical extremist Palestinians. Israel is behaving as a colonial master.

It is true that many Palestinians and other Moslems call out for the destruction of Israel.

It is also true that all people who feel they are at war call for the destruction of their enemies. This is the nature of war and conflict. There are many examples in history that demonstrate many former combatants have achieved peace and cooperation and sometimes became partners in common endeavors. France and Great Britain were often in conflict. France, Great Britain, and Germany were enemies and now cooperate.

Some will argue it was war that settled their differences. Many others, including this writer, feel it was the formation of an economic union between the nations that has prevented more wars. Vengeance, military might, and power politics often just exacerbate differences. The building of walls, economic deprivation, and a lack of respect by a more powerful state causes the desperation of suicide bombers. "Munich," the film regarding the actions of Israel after the heinous acts of extremist Palestinians, demonstrates the futility of violence. Military force is often needed to achieve the goals of a sovereign nation. Reliance on military force and neo-colonial behavior will not solve the conflict between two oppressed peoples.

A few weeks ago, I was at Union Square, where some Zionists were demonstrating. Signs that said, "Keep Jerusalem Jewish" were prominent.

In my opinion, that is a dangerous concept. Both the Jewish state and many Palestinians want Jerusalem to be their capital city.

Many, including the Vatican, feel Jerusalem should be an international city. Jerusalem is sacred to the three major monotheistic religions. Jerusalem may be a part of the solution to this horrendous conflict if it becomes a shared capital for two peoples who have suffered so much strife. A joint capital may be unique, but would also be an opportunity for peace and cooperation to exist and possibly flourish. Why not work toward a brotherly solution and recognize that chauvinism, pride, and a disregard for the other are not always practical?

Iyas Al-Qasem wrote a letter to The Economist newspaper that brought out the fact that the conflict is a real estate dispute. He wrote: "The only solution that stands a chance in the long term is the little talked about single state solution, based on equal democratic rights for all citizens regardless of origin and religion. It is only this way that the conflicting rights that both nations say they have for the same land can be accommodated. As with a two-state solution, the road will be difficult and contentious, but a surprisingly large number of both populations would be willing to accept this as the only sustainable resolution to the conflict."

I have read in the Jerusalem Post and Daily Telegraph websites that there are groups in Israel who feel the same as Al-Qasem. Before Israel was formed and at its formation, many sincere people felt a joint state was the promise of the Balfour Doctrine. Maybe a unitary economic state with guarantees for all is the best solution.

It has been reported in the Daily Telegraph that representatives of the Palestinians, Egypt, Jordan, and Israel are meeting to resolve the serious water shortage the region has. Peace can be achieved for the benefit of all if economic, social, and cultural cooperation is seen as the road to progress for all. Tony Blair has a massive project to complete in the Middle East. I wish him Godspeed.

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