Bush Visit to Middle East Yields Little Progress on Palestine-Israel Front

Posted on Thu, Jan 17, 2008 @ 04:29 PM

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Bush Visits Middle East

I have delayed comment on President Bush's only visit to Israel and Palestine during his two terms of office to be able to take a longer view.

Assessments of the visit are guarded at best.

At the beginning of the tour the Economist laid out the puzzle and the challenge in Israel and Palestine. At the end of the week long circuit, the same source summed up the prospects of success and the sub-text of the tour when it comes to arms supplies and who is providing what to whom.

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Tags: arms supplies, President Bush, conflict, israel, Palestine

Israeli and Palestinian Leaders Bogged Down Post-Annapolis

Posted on Thu, Dec 27, 2007 @ 04:37 PM
Still no sign of progress toward peace
The Washington Post carried an editorial comment today about the noisy exchange over Israel's plan to build more homes in Har Homa overlooking Bethlehem. The point is that it is a marginal issue when both sides know there will be land swaps in a final solution for Jerusalem. True. But wisdom would suggest that provocation of any kind is not the path to meaningful and just peace.

Tags: jerusalem, Bethlehem, Har Homa, Middle East Peace, conflict, israel, Palestine

The UK and Iran's Threat to Peace

Posted on Mon, Dec 10, 2007 @ 05:00 PM

The continuing international impasse over Iran's nuclear program was notched up last week by the UK's foreign secretary David Miliband. He issued a warning in the pages of the Financial Times.

Tags: David Miliband, conflict, Iran's nuclear program

Author of The Hebrew Republic, Bernard Avishai, Launches Blog

Posted on Mon, Dec 03, 2007 @ 03:40 PM
Professor Bernard Avishai, author of the forthcoming (April), highly praised The Hebrew Republic, has started a blog.  Its purpose is to provide "Responses, mainly to rash opinions about Israel and its conflicts."

Tags: Bernard Avishai, conflict, israel

Where Annapolis Succeeded

Posted on Mon, Dec 03, 2007 @ 03:35 PM
Michael B. Oren, author of arguably the best account of the Six Day War, had an op-ed piece in the New York Times this weekend. It makes the point that Annapolis succeeded not so much as a peace conference but as a prelude to further conflict in which moderate Middle Easterners of all stripes will oppose the"extremism" of Iran.

Tags: conflict, israel, annapolis, Palestine, Iran, Extremism

Clash of Civilizations—Is Conflict Inevitable?

Posted on Thu, Jun 21, 2007 @ 03:03 PM
Samuel Huntington’s notion that we are living through an era marked by the inevitable clash of civilizations called into question

In his 1996 book, “Clash of Civilizations,” Samuel Huntington focused on militant Islam as a prime example of civilizational conflict with the West. Of course, not all Muslims seek confrontation nor accept that Islamic and Western civilizations are destined to clash. 

In Rome today, Mohammed Arkoun, professor of the History of Islamic Thought at the University of Paris, told delegates that tragedies such as the Arab-Israeli conflict and Iraq war result from “carefully planned political alliances and monopolistic control of societies” and further that Huntington’s concept was being used to manipulate rather than elucidate. 

He appealed against “the diplomacy of secrecy,” saying that truth has become a victim. He also advised that all sides should engage in serious self-examination as a prelude to making progress.  

It’s not the first time that the clash of civilizations has been questioned by an Islamic authority. 

In July 2003 at an international conference of Islamic scholars, the Grand Shaykh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi of the Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, which is viewed as the highest authority in Sunni Islam, declared, “I do not subscribe to the idea of a clash among civilizations. People of different beliefs should co-operate and not get into senseless conflicts and animosity.”  

David Hulme


Tags: conflict

Latent Forces of Identity and Ideology Released by 1967 June War

Posted on Wed, May 09, 2007 @ 03:51 PM
A new watershed in the Middle East conflict came with the capture of East Jerusalem.

Shlomo Goren blows the shofar on the  Temple MountGeneral Shlomo Goren, military chaplain, was one of the first Israelis to reach the Temple Mount in 1967. Two years later, he became Israel’s chief rabbi (1969–79). On June 7th he blew the shofar and prayed intensely. He also suggested to Major General Uzi Narkiss that the latter could go down in history by taking a hundred kilos of explosive and destroying the Muslim shrine, the Dome of the Rock.

This was revealed thirty years later when Narkiss was dying and told a newspaper reporter the story. The power of identity and the power of the historic moment possessed Goren. He said to Narkiss: “You don’t grasp the immense meaning of this. This is an opportunity that can be exploited now, this minute. Tomorrow it will be impossible.”

 It was Goren’s conviction that the Jewish temple should be rebuilt. In this he was supported by the minister of religious affairs, Zerach Warhaftig, who held that the Jews own the Temple Mount as a result of the Israelite King David’s purchase from Araunah the Jebusite.

The capture of the Old City set in motion many radical changes to meet the Israelis’ newly released latent identification with their holy places. Using the language of latency and identification, Israeli author A.B. Yehoshua wrote, “The Six Day War was labelled ‘the Jewish War,’ and with good reason, for the old Jewish spirit within us was roused like a ghost.”

On June 19, Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban addressed the U.N. General Assembly. He spoke in detail about the origins of the war and its outcome. With respect to Jerusalem he said:

"In our nation’s long history there have been few hours more intensely moving than the hour of our reunion with the Western Wall. A people had come back to the cradle of its birth. It has renewed its link with the mystery of its origin and continuity. How long and deep are the memories which that reunion evokes."

Evidence of the power of identity and ideological elements when they reemerge after long periods is found in the reactions of many Israelis who visited the Wall soon after its capture. Israeli scholar, Arthur Hertzberg wrote:

"Within hours of the conquest of the Old City, generals who had seldom, if ever, been to synagogue were disregarding snipers’ bullets and walking toward the Western Wall. They were not embarrassed to follow the time-honored custom of writing prayers on chits of paper and pushing them into the crevices of the Western Wall or of kissing its stones."

Since 1967 the Wall has become a national icon for most Israelis, the location of civil and national ceremonies, concerts, and the swearing in of elite army units. Revering the Wall, the Temple Mount and historic Jerusalem is, for most, not a matter of practicing the Jewish religion but rather an essential aspect of national identity rooted in the history and religious tradition of the Jewish people.

David Hulme


Tags: jerusalem, middle east, Dome of the Rock, identity, Old City, conflict, 1967 June War, Israeli, Palestinian, Shlomo Goren

Jerusalem at the Heart of the Middle East Conflict

Posted on Mon, May 07, 2007 @ 03:53 PM
The upcoming anniversary of the 1967 June War, or the Six Day War, is an opportunity to reflect on the power of identity and ideology.
IDF Soldiers at the Western Wall, June 7, 1967

Israeli paratroopers (Zion Karasenti, Yitzak Yifat and Haim Oshri) at the Western Wall on June 10, 1967. Photograph by David Rubinger. Licensed for Vision.org by Getty Images Editorial.

A significant reminder of the ongoing Middle East conflict comes with the 40th anniversary of the day the Old City of Jerusalem fell into the hands of the Israel Defense Forces on June 7, 1967. Israelis will commemorate Jerusalem Day on May 15-16, the equivalent date on the Hebrew calendar this year. From the perspective of Jerusalem, nothing was more significant in the war than the Israeli capture of its eastern half, including the Temple Mount. 

According to Ha'aretz journalist and novelist Amos Elon, the Western or Wailing Wall suddenly became “a monument in the domain of memory and of faith” for the Israeli people. Within Israel, the capture of the Temple Mount catalyzed the desire to make something profoundly religious out of the otherwise political. Even the nonreligious became religious that day.  

On June 7, three Israeli military leaders strode through the Lion’s Gate and made their way to the Western or Wailing Wall—Uzi Narkiss, Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin. Dayan was defense minister and an avowed secularist. But he was soon announcing, “We have returned to all that is holy in our land. We have returned never to be parted from it again.”  

The power of historical identity motivated many Israelis at the time. In the words of Jerusalem’s former deputy mayor Meron Benvenisti, “[We felt] that we were joining hands with our ancestors.”  

Colonel Mordechai “Motta” Gur had been born in the Old City and led the paratroopers who were the first soldiers to arrive at the Temple Mount. He told the soldiers who had gathered at the Wall, “It is impossible to express what we feel in words. We have been waiting for this moment for so many years.” When he paid his own visit to the Western Wall, he connected with his past. He wrote: "Despite the great congregation, I had to undergo my own private experience. I did not listen to the prayers, but raised my eyes to the stones. . . .

"I remembered our family visits at the wall. Twenty-five years ago, as a child, I had walked through the narrow alleys and markets. The impression made on me by the praying at the wall never left me. My memories blended in with the pictures that I had seen at a later age of Jews, with long white beards, wearing frock coats and black hats. They and the wall were one."

On June 12, he assembled with his paratroopers on the Temple Mount and spoke to them even more pointedly in the language of identity: "You restored the Mount to the bosom of the nation. The Western Wall—the heartbeat of every Jew, the place to which every Jewish heart yearns—is once more in our hands." 

Gur continued, "During the War of Liberation, mighty efforts were made to recover for the nation its heart—the Old City, the Western Wall. These efforts failed. 

"The great privilege of finishing the circle at long last, of giving back to the nation its capital, its center of sanctity, has been given to you."

Much of this material, its sources and much more is covered in Identity, Ideology and the Future of Jerusalem.

Next time, Uzi Narkiss rejects a suggestion from a religious leader to destroy the Muslim shrine, The Dome of the Rock.

Tags: identity, conflict, israel, Palestine, Temple Mount, Amos Elon, ideology, Jerusalem Day, Moshe Dayan, Wailing Wall

Jerusalem Tomb Stirs Controversy

Posted on Fri, Mar 30, 2007 @ 03:58 PM
Conflict, not illumination, is the end result of an impoverished approach to research.

Vision Magazine

Reading archaeologist Leen Ritmeyer’s blog posting about the supposed Jesus Tomb in Jerusalem of March 27, I noted the following with interest: 

“Insights such as these [about how people in the Golan lived in early New Testament times] take rather longer to glean than the instant sensationalist discovery of the Talpiot tomb, which contained ossuaries bearing those ‘resonant’ names. As Samuel Johnson, the brilliant 18th century literary figure observed: ‘Excellence in any department can be attained only by the labour of a lifetime; it is not to be purchased at a lesser price.’ Or again in Johnson’s words, only more concisely, ‘What is easy is seldom excellent.’” 

This expresses well the motivation and underlying modus operandi of the quarterly Vision, which I publish on the web and in print. Pursuing excellence is extremely hard work. We require our writers to check sources thoroughly and not to rely on secondary ones without verification. Over the years our experience has been that there are far too many authors who do not follow this simple route to excellence. We have been unable to use their work without carefully double-checking and have often found them wanting when we have.  

The difficulty we have had with the content of the documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus is a good example. Despite the fact that the film was three years in the making, what Ritmeyer terms its “sensationalism” caused many scholars to immediately question its central assumptions.

Some of the experts interviewed in the program have distanced themselves from its “findings” in subsequent discussions. It begs the question whether the kind of careful, thoughtful work that Ritmeyer refers to was undertaken during those three years. When we followed up with two experts directly involved with tomb’s 1980 excavation and the examination of its human remains, rather different conclusions emerged.  

Dr. Johnson’s comments about excellence have the ring of truth. Achieving it is painstakingly hard work.  Conflict, not illumination, was the end result of the approach taken in The Lost Tomb of Jesus. 

Tags: jerusalem, Leen Ritmeyer, Jesus, conflict, Talpiot Tomb, The Lost Tomb of Jesus

How Economic, Legal and Security Issues Affect the Future of Jerusalem

Posted on Tue, Jan 23, 2007 @ 04:13 PM
A prosperous and peaceful Palestinian entity could only benefit both Palestinians and Israelis.

palestinian market in the old city of  Jerusalem Economic arguments against sharing Jerusalem with a future Palestinian state have no support based on present or foreseeable conditions. There is no threat to the economic growth of the Israeli economy.

Indeed, a resolution of the Jerusalem Question could only improve the economic outlook for the city, East and West, considering the influx of international funding that peace would bring, to say nothing of the boom in tourism that would also ensue.

According to Michael Dumper (Politics of Sacred Space, 154–5), under a permanent-status agreement the projected annual number of guests in Jerusalem would rise from 1 million to about 2 million, and overnight stays from about 3 million to 5 million. Shimon Peres has argued for many years that an economically prosperous Palestinian entity could only benefit both Palestinians and Israelis.

It makes sense that, as Ira Sharkansky has noted, “the motive forces of Jerusalem policymaking are more likely to be national and religious than a seeking-after economic advantage” (Governing Jerusalem, Again on The World’s Agenda, 17).

As to legal reasons for the impasse over the city, the issues are more complex, and as several authorities have pointed out, there is no simple answer to them on either side. However, the baseline for final negotiations with respect to certain key legal issues regarding Jerusalem has been set. In the 1993 Declaration of Principles, both sides agreed to be bound by UN resolutions 242 and 338.

Resolution 242 (22 November 1967) speaks to the situation between Israel and the Arab states following the 1967 war. It mentions the inadmissibility of acquiring territory by war, and the need for a just and lasting peace with security for all states within recognized borders in the region. It calls on Israel to withdraw from territory acquired in the 1967 war and for the Arab states to cease from hostility with all other states in the region.

Resolution 338 (21–2 October 1973) addresses the situation between Israel and the Arab states following the 1973 war. It calls for a cease-fire and the end of all military activity, and for the belligerents to put Resolution 242 into effect and find a just and durable peace. The May 2003 “roadmap” to ending the Arab-Israeli conflict, proposed by the Quartet (UN, U.S., E.U. and Russia), also acknowledges the force of Resolution 1397 (12 March 2002), which recalls the two above resolutions and states the intention of the UN to press for renewal of the peace process and cessation of violence, recognizing the efforts of the Quartet and Saudi Arabia to resolve the conflict.

For many, security concerns would seem to be the main stumbling block in coming to agreement over Jerusalem’s future. Security is normally defined in terms of external security, internal security and public order. The latter is usually a matter of police control over crime in the public sphere. However, both external security, in terms of attack from outside Israel, and internal security, in terms of terrorist activity within Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, are the concern of the IDF.

Israel’s use of the IDF to counter the First and Second Intifadas has placed the army, rather than the police, at the center of public order issues in and around Jerusalem. Thus one possible explanation for Israeli intransigence over resolving the Jerusalem Question is guaranteeing its external and internal security. The security of Jerusalem and its environs is a logical concern for all parties involved in the city’s daily life.

The significance of the Old City as a center of worship for multiple faiths carries security implications because of the possibility of clashes between visitors to the various religious sites. While public order has usually been the issue in such cases, events of the past thirty years have demonstrated the vulnerability and volatility of the area encompassing the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, the al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Since the Israelis took possession of the Old City in 1967, they have often stated that they will provide adequate security and freedom of access to the holy places for adherents of all faiths. The statement is made whenever there is a suggestion that sovereignty over the holy sites should be shared with others. But this response does not appear to be based on security needs.

An argument for intractability on the part of Israel based on security concerns appears to have little merit. As the single most powerful entity in the Middle East, supported by the United States, Israel is fully capable of defending herself from attack within Jerusalem’s present or foreseeable boundaries.

Image: Jill Granberg. Flickr

Tags: jerusalem, middle east, conflict, israel, Palestine, Israeli, Palestinian