Monday, March 20, 2006

A War of Religions? God Forbid!

Uri Avnery sounds a warning that ought to be amplified...

FOR YEARS I have been haunted by a nightmare: that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would change from a national to a religious confrontation.
A national conflict, terrible as it may be, is soluble. The last two centuries have seen many national wars, and almost all of them ended in a territorial compromise. Such conflicts are basically logical, and can be terminated in a rational way.
Not so religious conflicts. When all sides are bound by divine commandments, the attainment of a compromise becomes far more difficult.
Religious Jews believe that God promised them all of the holy land. Thus, giving away any of it to "foreigners" is an unforgivable sin. In the eyes of Muslim believers, the whole country is a Waqf (religious trust), and it is therefore absolutely forbidden to surrender any part of it to unbelievers. (When the Caliph Omar conquered Palestine some 1400 years ago, he declared it a Waqf. His motive was quite practical: to prevent his generals from dividing the land between themselves, as was their wont.)
By the way, the evangelical fundamentalists who dominate Washington at this time also see the Holy Land as a religious property, to which the Jews must return in order to make possible the second coming of Jesus Christ.
Is a compromise between these forces possible? Certainly yes, but it is much more difficult. A devout Muslim is allowed to declare a Hudna (armistice) for a hundred years and more, without condemning his soul to hell. Ariel Sharon, who began the evacuation of settlers, spoke about "long-range temporary arrangements". In politics, "temporary" measures have a tendency to become permanent.
But wisdom, sophistication and a lot of patience are needed to reach a resolution of the conflict in these circumstances.
On the day Arafat died, many Israelis were angry with me for saying (in a Haaretz interview) that we shall yet long for this secular leader, who was both willing and able to make peace with us. I said that his elimination removes the last obstacle to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Palestine and the entire Arab world.
One did not need to be a prophet to see that.

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