Haggling for Peace

Even before the announcement was made that the U.S. Embassy in Israel will move to Jerusalem, hints in this direction had already had an impact on the State Department warning regarding travel to Israel, which in turn has required me to suspend my short term study abroad trip to Israel. I don’t object to moving the embassy in principle the way some others do. But I do object to the way it has been handled. On that subject, I think this is a great quote from Steve Wiggins:

Trump, to the cheers of evangelicals who want nothing so fervently as the end of the world, has said he’ll recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This political move of weaponized ignorance will almost certainly lead to war in the Middle East. Another war. An illegitimate presidency leaving a frothing sea of corpses in its wake. Negotiating in this part of the world is like haggling with that street vendor for a pair of sandals. You go back and forth on the price. You act insulted and walk away. You come back and haggle some more. It’s a delicate dance. This is no place for egomaniacs who can’t understand such subtleties. Just ask the last Caligula who wanted his statue set up as a god in this city. Jerusalem is home to too many jealous gods, and those who are self-appointed divinities will only leave the city, the world, in tears.

Click through to read the rest of the post that the quote is excerpted from. Also on this theme is Gary Burge’s article in The Atlantic about Evangelical support for Israel. See too the recent post by Jeffrey Salkin, who writes:

American hard-liners, whether Jewish or Christian, treat Israel as their football team. They sit in the bleachers of America, cheering Israel on from a safe distance. “Hit ’em again — harder, harder!”

But Israel isn’t a football team. There are real lives at stake, and those lives are more important than any posturing that might win political points.

I find the current administration in Israel problematic in its approach to these matters. But the truth is that Wiggins’ analogy to haggling is just right. Bargaining in the Middle East reflects an honor-shame values system that is not familiar to most in the United States, and is something challenging to navigate even if one has learned about or lived in that context. As a Christian, I find myself wanting to hear more voices that seek to break out of the cycle of violence that reflects the fact that, if one gives ground without first inflicting harm on the other, if one approaches the negotiating table without getting the last punch in, then one loses face. But as Fred Clark observes, expecting that stance and approach to become widespread is unrealistic, at least in the short term.

Jerusalem is important to and inhabited by people of many faith traditions, languages, and ethnicities, and there is no way to either carve it into pieces or just give it to one group. There is no way to divide Israel and Palestine into two nations that perfectly reflect Jewish vs. Arab inhabitants. And there is no way to make one state and still have it provide a Jewish homeland. And so the options are to continue fighting indefinitely, or to make sacrifices to work for peace.

That said, Israel won a war and took control of land that previously belonged to Jordan. From the Jordanian perspective, I remember hearing my Jordanian tour guide say, the West Bank used to be Jordan, and now it is Israel. I also remember a Jewish American speaker talking about the fact that we don’t normally expect nations to simply give back land that they previously obtained during a war. The issue is that Israel has not integrated the inhabitants of those territories as citizens, nor given them the rights and freedom of movement that citizens would normally have.

I don’t find either a one state or a two state solution much more appealing than the other, except inasmuch as a two-state solution, for all its positive aspects, seems that it will inevitably fail to end the crisis because it will have to give Jerusalem to one nation or the other. Perhaps this step by President Trump will force there to be more discussion of a one-state solution. Because as far as I can see, there is no future for Jerusalem unless it is one that everyone in the vicinity is willing to share, and to share peacefully as full citizens who all have the right to visit and worship those sites that are important to them.



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