By Frank Wessling
With low expectations but grim hope the world watched last week as Palestinians and Israelis sat down together to talk of living side by side in peace. President Barack Obama convened the negotiations in Washington, D.C., with a question: “Do we have the wisdom and the courage to walk the path of peace?”
In the 62 years since Israel’s founding in 1948 and the Arab world’s rejection of what it saw as an alien presence forced into its land, there have been other attempts to reduce mutual hostility in the region. Any success has been modest and short-lived, often one step forward and two steps back. Each side has hard demands which the other says it cannot accept. Each side has its own radical faction that prefers war to giving up expansive dreams.
Both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu know their lives are at risk if they give up too much.
Yet there can’t be a positive answer to that question of Obama’s without the risks of serious accommodation between Israel and the Palestinians. The reality of Israel, the territory and its Jewish character, must be accepted. The precise boundaries of that territory can be negotiated, but its right to exist must take root in the Arab peoples — including Palestinians. At the same time, Israeli leadership must act more like a good neighbor and less like the neighborhood bully who uses superior strength to force his way in anywhere.
Talks like those that began last week have been held before, with hopeful-sounding results on paper. Then the back-tracking begins, the explaining that this is not what something really meant, this can’t be done because “they” didn’t do their part, etc., etc. Some party back home doesn’t like part of an agreement and threatens to bring down the government. Fanatics on each side resort to violent provocations.
Despite the sorry record from past attempts to move the Israeli-Palestinian conflict toward a peaceful resolution, it is important to try again. Something is learned from each effort. New situations exist and new people are involved with the possibility of new openings to progress. And it is simply too dangerous to let that conflict fester unattended. It keeps the Middle East a volatile region endangering all of its people.
Finding the way to peace is a difficult responsibility. Every head of a household knows something about that. But we always want someone to be working on it. Let us pray for wisdom and courage among those charged with finding a peaceful way. And let us pray that the spirit of peace be allowed root and growth among the Palestinian and Israeli people.