The Quest for Long-Elusive Middle East Peace: What Makes the Holy Land Holy?

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What makes the “Holy Land” holy? Only righteous behavior by its occupants can ever sanctify this or any other land. Will the leaders of two peoples display a level of righteousness that can put an end to years of conflict?

In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly recently, US President Barack Obama expressed his fervent hope that a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians could be forged within a year. Should this come to pass, it would truly be a milestone in the ongoing quest for peace in the middle east.

By now, almost everyone is familiar with the most fundamental roots of the conflict. For most Palestinians, the issues that represent the sorest still open wounds center around the injustice of colonial powers ever exercising control over and carving up their territory in the first place, the myth that the vast majority of Palestine’s Arab population fled their homes willingly (and creating one of the largest modern times refugee crises in the process) with the expectation they would return when their armies had succeeded in repelling the “Zionist” invaders, and the future of places regarded not only as holy but also as integral to identity by both sides in the conflict. For the Israelis, the issues center around the vital need for a home country in the land to which they have been tied for a great part of history, and for a degree of security as a people and nation that has eluded them for centuries.

During the process that resulted in the accords of 1993, Yitzhak Rabin declared: “Enough of Blood and Tears. Enough!” And, notwithstanding all of the agreements that have been made over the many years since the “peace process” first began, it’s been nothing but blood and tears, sparked by violations on both sides, and driven by interests that continue to place their self-serving and radical agendas ahead of the benefits of a just settlement and a potentially lasting peace.

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Prior efforts sought to defer even the discussion of “final status” issues until some of the more fundamental building blocks of peace were already laid and proven solid over time. But the folly of this thinking became evident all too quickly because trust was so low on both sides, especially with regard to the willingness of the more radical elements on each side to compromise. So now, for the first time, both sides are talking about the most crucial and definitive issues — issues that can and must be solved if there is ever to be peace in the region. And in his typical “yes, we can!” style, President Obama is exhorting both parties not only to finally get the job done, but to do so in one year’s time.

Time will tell about what is to become of the “Holy Land.” Even the name of this region of the world has always represented a bit of paradox to me. If the soil itself is sacred, where does the sacredness end? Does not every grain of sand touch another? At which particular grain of sand does the sacredness of the land cease? I believe the answer is that only righteous behavior by its occupants can ever sanctify this or any other land. And the call has now gone out to the leaders of two peoples to display a level of righteousness that can put an end to years of conflict.

President Obama has embarked upon a noble but extraordinarily daunting and audacious task. There are some who say he was afforded recognition for his efforts toward peace long before he really did anything to earn it. But if he succeeds in his current quest (and there are many praying that he does), he will have abundantly demonstrated his worthiness.

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