Posted by: azizabusarah | April 22, 2010

Questions on Obama and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict #1

By Aziz Abu Sarah and Kobi Skolnick
(Conflicting Peace Blog)

In the last year, the new American Administration has changed the way the US have been handling the Israeli Palestinian conflict. As a result of this shift, we have encountered many questions in our speaking engagements about the administration’s stance on the Israeli- Palestinian conflict and the Middle East. Below are our answers to some of these questions.

Is Obama a friend of Israel?

A question normally asked by either conservative Christians or concerned Jews about the future of Israel. To answer the question we must first define what does the word friend mean? According to the Genesis Rabbah, “A love without rebuke is no real love.” also the Bible says in the book of Proverbs “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses…”

A friend is not someone who agrees always with his partners and friends but rather someone who is honest and willing to hurt his friend’s feelings for what is good for him.

Israel has been living in continuous conflict since it was established in 1948. Most American Presidents have supported Israel militarily through these years and many congressmen have advocated for Israel’s right to exist and defend itself. However it seems many have wandered away from the goal of the creation of the state of Israel. It was not to create a hot conflict spot that has a full scale war ever few years. It was to have a free, secure and democratic place for Jews that they call home.

Today, the dream of the Jewish majority state is fading away day by day.  Ironically it is those who champion defending Israel and proclaim the love of Israel who are killing that dream. By promoting the growth of settlements and opposing the creation of a viable Palestinian State they are stabbing the dream to death. The only alternative left will be a One State for all citizens. Not because it is the ideal solution but because the ongoing changes on the ground will make a viable Palestinian state impossible.

Some take it further advocating for a new war with Iran and/or Syria. They proclaim that such a war will bring security and stability to Israel, ignoring the fact that after being victorious in many wars in the last 60 years, Israel is still far from having peace and stability. One more war will only increase hatred and enmity.

President Obama expressed his vision for Israel to have peace with all its Arab and Muslim neighbors and to become a natural part of the Middle East. His efforts are making headways in the Arab world. This is a vision of a true friend of Israel and of the Palestinians where the interest of peace for both triumph the special interest and politics that supports the continuation of the conflict.

Does Obama favor the Arabs over the Jews?

President Obama speaks of a new vision where Arabs and Jews are not seen as if on opposing sides and where one is not forced to choose to support one side against the other. It is a vision of not categorizing them by either or, nor acting with blind faith towards one or the other.

Our people both Arabs and Jews want an end to the bloodshed and injustice but because of extremists on both sides the cycle of violence will not be broken without some clear vision and drastic measures. Our people are proven to be bolder than our leaders, in showing their hope for change by signing every initiative for peace that has been circulated, from Geneva Initiative, Nusseiba Ayalon Accords to One Voice signatures campaign. President Obama is now asking our leaders to do what our people have been asking for, for too long.

What about American interest in the region, isn’t attacking Iran an American Interest?

America is engaged in two wars at the moment which means it is stretched militarily and financially in Iraq and Afghanistan. The economy is also facing many challenges as new powers are rising such as China, plus other threats keeping popping up such as N-Korea. Extremist groups are using the Israeli-Palestinian problem to gain sympathy and recruit fighters. General Petreous just confirmed this notion in his testimony to congress last week.

It is in America’s best interest to help stabilize the Middle East by promoting an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that promises freedom, security and justice to all sides. The last thing the US needs right now is another war in the Middle East. History teaches us that countries that depended on military powers alone becomes over stretched and is eventually weakened. Even conservative president George W. Bush was reported to deny Israeli request to attack Iran two years ago. President Obama is being a realist in analyzing the threats facing the US and favoring diplomacy over the drums of war with Iran.

We hope that the US will not tire of it’s diplomatic efforts on fostering a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, and eventually with Syria, Lebanon and the Arab world. Israel and its neighboring Arab and Muslim states have much more in common and much more to work on together than issues that differ. In facing the threats of the future ranging from water to energy, they must find solutions together as allies not enemies.

Does the Arab world truly want peace?

While we need to be aware of organizations that advocate violence such as Hamas and Al-Qaeda, we also need to bear in mind that a third of the world’s population is going to be Muslim. Terror is a tool adapted by only a few. There is clear trend against terrorism and a desire for just peace. For instance, Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam has taken two major initiatives; one is the Saudi-proposed Arab peace initiative adopted at the annual Arab League Summit in Beirut in 2002, and the other is a program of de-radicalization. Thousands of former terrorists participated in counter-radicalization and disengagement programs for violent extremists. While it is not one hundred percent successful, it is a significant step in the right direction. Few other countries have started similar programs. Moreover, Dr Qadri, an influential Pakistani Islamic scholar, wrote 600-page judgment, known as a fatwa, which completely dismantles Al-Qaeda’s violent ideology step by step. Also, in Palestine there is a growing movement of non-violent action to end the occupation.

We need to help the momentum towards peace in the Arab and Muslim world as they face great challenges to counter radical ideologies. In the Pan-Muslim call for dialogue, religious leaders recognize the importance of understanding the common ground “Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world’s population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world. The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.”

According to Tayob, Islam faces challenges as well as opportunities. There is a need to find a balance between modernity, globalization and tradition. The way to do so is by understanding the other:  “the world must understand as distinct cultural-civilization zones which have different ways of looking at reality. The failure to recognize these differences will lead to disasters.”

One of the most effective tools for neutralizing radicalization would simply be peace between Israel and Palestine, a fact that the US Pentagon officials have come to realize. We cannot wait for another bloodbath and more celebrations by radicals on both sides. We need to stop helping these radicals manipulate young minds by delaying the peace process.

We now know what disaster looks like; can we truly imagine looking at peace?

Please send us your questions and we will answer within few days.

(This article was first published at



  1. As usual, Aziz, your comments are logical, concise and informative. While I agree with the need to deemphasize violence and seek mutual accomodation of Jews and Arabs, the one sticking point which will remain and be a thorn is topic of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the heart and soul of the Jewish people, not the Muslims. Every Jewish prayer mentions it and it is embedded in the fabric of Judaism. It is not mentioned once..not once int he Q’uran . Christianity’s association with the city is derived entirely from its Jewish roots. Medina was a Jewish city until Mohammed murdered its Jewish inhabitants. Do you uhear Jews demanding back Medina? Much to my dismay, the Temple Mount is controlled lock, stock and barrel by the Palestinian Authority who continually discard every vestige of Judaism they find into a garbage heap. I don’t see a Jewish presence in Medina. The Palestinians were already given the Gaza Strip and offered the West Bank. They summarily rejected. It appears transparent that they want to make the Jewish State a defacto Muslim one. that will never happen. The only reason that Jerusalem is the impediment is because of other reason. Jerusalem is and will remain a Jewish City where all religions are free to worship and vist the holy sites ( something that was impossible during the Arab occupation). If Obama lets Washington D.C. become an international city or shares it with Russia.. Israel still will never surrender Jerusalem

    • Dear Donald

      I would like to comment on your feedback,

      1) The Palestinian people are not Muslims nor Christians. This group of Arabs formed as a modern nation just now here in Palestine out of a complex situation created by the Zionist movement. Jerusalem for the Palestinian nation become key identity element, and as we need to recognize the importance of that to the religious Jews, we can recognize its importance for the palestinians especially when we seek new agreement that can be sustainable and enable a modern national state for the Palestinians.

      2) Jerusalem is not a specific territory and as it is a international modern state territorial negotiation we can and should find a formula that will enable religious Jews to say “our Jerusalem” while Palestinians recognizing”our Jerusalem” and Israelis like me say “our Jerusalem”.

      3) you put some comments on Arabs and palestinians that I question if they are fair. if in history the Jordanians did not enable free worship in Jerusalem can we conclude that the Palestinians will do the same under agreement signed with Israel? I think that the Palestinian have hardship to develop their state sovereignty, but within the solution these are the people of Palestine and they will find the ways to work in a way that it is sustainable. your remarks about Islam and Arabs in general hint that you assume that these people cannot work with Israelis to create sustainable peace. from that approach you cannot see the change that is coming to the Arab world and to Palestine and you cannot see what Israelis and Palestinians building on the ground for the safety and the future of their children.

    • Don,
      you are right that Jerusalem is mentioned hundreds of times in the Jewish and Christian bibles, and I understand why it is important for both Jews and Christians. However, please allow me to present a glimpse of the Muslim narrative. You don’t need to accept it but I think it is important that you know it and understand where Muslims come from. Jerusalem is mentioned indirectly in the Quran when talking about Al-Aqsa mosque describing a trip that the Muslim prophet Muhammad took to Jerusalem, the same story is detailed in Hadith. just like in Judaism the Bible is not the only religious source, Muslims have other sources especially Hadith (traditions). These traditions go into many details about why Jerusalem is important to Muslims. For example, when Muslims started to pray they faced Jerusalem until this was changed later in Muhammad’s life. Prayer in Jerusalem is believed to count as 500 prayers elsewhere. These are important religious narratives to Muslims

      As for the future of Jerusalem being Jewish. I know from reading the bible that when King David conquered Jerusalem and took it from the Jebusites, he didn’t kick them out, or take their land. The bible says that when King David found out that the land he intended to build the temple on belonged to a Jebusite man, he refused to take it without full payment. Even when the Man offered the land for free. So even when Jerusalem was first declared a capitol for the Jewish Kingdom, it was not only for Jews.

      The reality today is that Jerusalem is divided. If you cross from West Jerusalem to East Jerusalem you will find big difference.

      If it was up to me! I think Jerusalem should be an International City a capitol of all where freedom or worship is guaranteed for all. Unfortunately, I don’t think my opinion will be taken seriously in this case and I think in practical peace deal Jerusalem will be divided.

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