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Middle East reconciliation in the Diaspora

Middle East commentator Ghassan Rubeiz calls on the Arab and Jewish Diasporas in the United States to build bridges in an effort to promote Middle East peace. Rubeiz believes that joint advocacy could prove to be an extremely effective factor in generating progress towords problem solving…

by Ghassan Michel Rubeiz, CGNews, 08 April 2010

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Florida – In trying to save Israel and save Palestine, competing interest groups in Washington are „saving“ no more than the conflict itself. The efforts of the Jewish, Arab and Muslim communities in America should be harnessed for the resolution of the Arab Israeli conflict. So far, the Jews advocate for Israel and the Arabs and Muslims promote Palestine. This one-sided loyalty significantly slows down the peace process.

The boldness of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in arguing his case for building settlements is bolstered by the unconditional support he receives from much of the American Jewish community. In crisis situations, siding with Israel trumps any other position, regardless of whether Netanyahu is right or wrong. In seeking peace, the White House must work creatively with the Jewish community. Obama should also work with the Arab and Muslim American communities; they are an important factor in the promotion of peace.

Would the Jewish American community ever consider cooperating with the Arab and Muslim American communities (and vice versa) in the process of finding a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict? So far, the incentives on both sides have not been strong enough for such cooperation. But the three Diasporas may have to work together, sooner rather than later.

The relevance of the Jewish American community to the resolution of the conflict lies in its very powerful lobby and the history of American-Israeli relations. And while the Arab and Muslim American communities do not have strong influence in the Congress, they can potentially serve as a rich intellectual resource, with a freedom to pose daring ideas and an ability to mediate with the Arab and Muslim worlds-factors of great potential for the promotion of peace.

Could the Arab and Muslim communities extend the hand of reconciliation to the American Jewish community? This shift requires formidable moral and political courage. Jews need to be assured that Israel has a right to exist and be safe in the Middle East. Arabs could acknowledge that Israel has great potential in contributing to the development of the region.

Arabs often pose a rhetorical question: why does Israel need more assurance? The answer is largely psychological. Perceptions of Israel’s invincibility are, to a large extent, illusory. Although Israel is a military regional superpower, being a demographic minority, feeling regional isolation, observing a growing Palestinian population, dealing with the guilt of the occupation, watching the Muslim world adopting „Palestine“, looking at Iran’s military build up and regional alliances – all such factors make most Jews anxious to the core and worried about the future.

The Arab and Muslim communities could launch a campaign in Hebrew addressing suffering, condemning prejudice, incitement and fanaticism. Arabs could lead Jewish delegations to Muslim cities around the world to deal with stereotypes through dialogue. They could call for a worldwide conference of reconciliation and peace in Cairo, and then in Jerusalem. This conference would be an occasion to popularize the idea that social justice and forgiveness go together.

The Jewish American side could also reach out to Muslims and Arabs. Arab and Muslim Americans have felt vulnerable in America since September 11, have accepted Israel’s existence within its 1967 borders, have organised an American Task Force on Palestine – which is active in dialogue with Jewish groups – and have actively participated in interfaith programs all over America.

The American media campaign against Islamism should be discouraged. The Jewish community has a special role in calming the right-wing evangelical political forces.

The most important mutual gesture of reconciliation could be the drafting of a common peace proposal on behalf of the Jewish, Arab and Muslim communities. The experience of preparing such a historic document would generate healing and a potential breakthrough.

All three sides in the American Diaspora should discover that the adversary is thirsty for reconciliation; that each side is a potential mediator in the festering Arab-Israeli conflict; and that joint advocacy across the divide could generate real peace.

* Dr. Ghassan Rubeiz (grubeiz@comcast.net) is former Secretary of the Middle East for the Geneva-based World Council of Churches.