Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Middle East

May 25, 2011

I confess to being far from expert on anything much to do with what is going on in the Middle East. The Arab Spring seems to me to have the potential to be a good thing for Arabs provided that self determination does not open the door to grater oppression than they knew before. “Nature abhors a vacuum” it is said, and weakened power or the absence of power without a recognized and accepted political system invites every malignant possibility to see and seize an opportunity. This is certainly something that many churches have experienced when they have had weak or absent leadership.

One thing is clear to me however and that is that somehow, for reasons I don’t really understand, real change and the possibility of real peace for the region must include some kind of resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian ‘question’. President Obama in his speech about the region in advance of Mr. Netanyahu’s (reportedly frustrating) visit to the U.S. made lots of interesting and positive points to this amateur onlooker including pursuing a two-state solution based on the boundaries of 1967. No one involved is going to love that proposal but it has some virtues nonetheless.

What I think is missing at this point is that we are talking about the creation of a new (Palestinian) state without first having or building in a process for the full recognition of Israel as a state with a right to exist. Israel, thank God, is blessed with strong and clear leadership, who seem to understand that you don’t negotiate with someone whose started aim is to destroy you and whose ‘negotiating posture’ is built in part around a ‘right of return’. The U.S. and anyone else can say that we will ‘guarantee the security of Israel’ until the cows come home, but if I was Israeli or I represented the Israeli government, there would be no real negotiation without powerful and ‘official’ voices in the Arab and Palestinian worlds renouncing without ambiguity their aim of destroying my country and supporting my right to exist.

I would do what Mr. Netanyahu and many of his predecessors appear to have been dong which is staying at the table in hopes of receiving such recognition without which any compromise on ‘borders’ and ‘defensibility’ would seem to be capitulation.

I do not underestimate the cost of leadership on this from the Arab and Palestinian point of view. I find it hard to imagine Palestinians acknowledging the right of Israel to exist without significant pressure from the Arab world as that will end the dream of the ‘right of return’. I remember sitting in my little room (on the Quad in those days) at Yale Divinity School in October 1981 trying to write a paper about something or other now forgotten, when I heard on the radio that Anwar Sadat had been assassinated. I remember my rage at the forces of evil that would do such a thing.

Can the Arab Spring allow for leaders of vision and courage to emerge? Can we forge and pursue a foreign policy that really encourages such a possibility while still resisting what we know to be opposed to any definition of freedom, (namely fundamentalism in any form)?

I would welcome any contribution here that could help me shape my understanding of all this that has within it the hope of positive change based in something other and additional to my trust in God’s love for the whole of creation and revealed desire that all humans be allowed to flourish.

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