An earlier version of this article was published as part of the Alternative Conversation Project, hosted by Harold Heie and cosponsored by the Center for Public Justice. We invite readers to visit the site for more perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or to join the conversation.
The recent hostilities in Israel and Gaza are a tragic reminder of the fragility of international relations. The U.N.-brokered cease fire has already proven fragile. As we follow the unfolding events in this troubled region, consider some of the ways domestic politics complicate the prospects of peace.
Discussion of this complicated issue should begin with acknowledgement of two key points.
First, Israel, a formally-recognized state and member of the United Nations, has the right to exist as a sovereign democratic nation. Israel’s Arab neighbors should acknowledge this right and not seek Israel’s destruction.
Second, the Palestinian refugees are the victims of real and sustained suffering. The hundreds of thousands of people who were living in the region of Palestine at the time of partition now comprise 4.8 million refugees dispersed in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip who are too often pawns in the geopolitics of the area.
Sadly, domestic politics in the United States, Israel and the Palestinian territories create significant impediments to peace in the region. Consider one example from each.
(1) Lack of Space for Conversation in the United States
By all accounts, the relationship between the United States and the state of Israel is a strong alliance. Although our commitment to Israel is well warranted, it should not be unquestioned. We need open and honest conversation that acknowledges the complexities of the situation in the region and its complicated history. In short, we need more meaningful dialogue about what our role in the region should be.
American diplomats and political leaders need the political space to weigh various options and consider what short and long term policies are in the best interest of the United States and the state of Israel. Current domestic political pressures from both major parties make it incredibly difficult for U.S. leaders to weigh options and offer them very little political leverage when dealing with Israel. It is difficult to broker peace under such circumstances.
(2) Israeli Settlements
One of the most significant barriers to peace talks is the issue of settlements, both the official Israeli government-approved neighborhoods on land in the occupied territories as well as unofficial settlements not recognized by Israeli law. The word “settlements” can muddle the debate, as this category includes small villages, vast suburbs and even some small cities. More than half a million Israelis live in settlements in the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The settlement issue is often a major sticking point in negotiations. It was a key reason peace talks stalled in 2010. It is difficult for the Palestinians and for the international community to believe that Israel is genuinely seeking a two-state solution when they have built vast settlements on disputed land.
(3) Internal Political Divisions among the Palestinians
In the past decades, different groups and political parties have struggled for power among the Palestinians. Corruption and terrorism have been common. Negotiation has been difficult, if not impossible.
Currently, two parties, Hamas and Fatah, vie for Palestinian loyalties. Conflict between the two parties escalated into the Fatah-Hamas conflict in 2006, which has left Fatah in control of the West Bank and Hamas in control of Gaza. This internal conflict creates significant division and weakens the Palestinians’ ability to seek genuine peace. To complicate matters, Fatah has a history of corruption and undemocratic ways that contributed to the shift in support toward Hamas. Many international actors (including the U.S. and the European Union) regard Hamas as a terrorist organization, and Hamas refuses to recognize Israeli sovereignty.
Attempts were underway to resolve this internal dispute, but there has been little progress in the movement toward unified Palestinian leadership. The current hostilities between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza strip complicate an already fragile process.
The Role of Christians Seeking Resolution and Reconciliation
I have highlighted just a few of the many factors that hinder a path toward peace in Israel and Palestine. As followers of Christ, we should seek a deeper and more objective understanding of both sides of the conflict, we should stand against human rights violations wherever they occur, and we should seek opportunities to broker meaningful peace. Above all, we should join with the Psalmist who enjoins us to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”
—Amy E. Black is Associate Professor of Political Science at Wheaton College and the author of Honoring God in Red or Blue: Approaching Politics with Humility, Grace, and Reason (Moody Publishers, 2012).
Photo courtesy of Adam Helweh