Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1.Cor. 22-25)
When applied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this excerpt of Saint Paul’s letter to the Corinthians will probably be fully accepted with regard to the “scandal” and “foolishness” it represents, but will remain profoundly controversial insofar as it testifies to the “wisdom of God”!
Indeed the scandal and foolishness of the conflict are manifest and the men who are responsible for resolving it have, once again, demonstrated their powerlessness to make progress other than the expected conventional declarations and a fragile agreement to suspend hostilities that have made too many innocent victims among the belligerents.
I will therefore not spend any time considering the relative value of claims made by either side, whether they refer to antiquity, the Arab conquest, the crusades, the Ottoman Empire or the continuous state of war prevailing since the creation of Israel in 1948. It would be, as confirmed by the history of the last 73 years, a wasteful and inconclusive debate, whatever the merits of the arguments put forward or the exactions perpetrated or endured par the parties involved.
This situation is the result of irreconcilable priorities that each of the stakeholders is (or believes to be) obligated – or else chooses deliberately – to take into account; in such a case, a temporary ceasefire is the best outcome that can be expected. Indeed all the responsible authorities, be it the Israeli or Palestinian leaders, the regional actors concerned, the major powers able to influence events or the Jewish and Muslim diaspora and the partisan intellectuals and politicians who manipulate them, all, without exception, put their own particular interests forward before those of the populations that bear the consequences and which, in their immense majority, aspire only to live in peace.
Thus, President Biden must consider a public opinion divided along partisan lines which could jeopardize his domestic post Covid recovery program and/or derail his efforts in reengaging the United States on the world stage. The European Union is incapable of expressing itself – and even less of acting – failing to agree on a clear common position, unanimously supported by its Member States; the same can be said of the powerlessness of the Security Council. In France, electoral considerations and the fear of importing the conflict on its soil, where 700.000 Jews and 6 million Muslims all French nationals live, weighs far more than the plight of the ravaged Near-East populations. The miss-aligned cross currents of political, economic and religious considerations between stakeholders means that any initiative, attempting to push further than a temporary armistice, is doomed from its inception.
It has become impossible, despite the horrendous spectacle of gratuitous suffering and the banalization of the exactions committed, to agree – in the name of the most basic decency – that the preservation of life, the recognition of human dignity and the pursuit of peace should under all circumstances be priorities that should prevail over any claims or particular interests that are expressed.
Faced with this flagrant failure of both belligerents and the International Community, has the time not arrived to take advantage of the truce and give a chance to the “wisdom of God”?
This suggestion, which will make some smile and be discarded out of hand by others, approaches the problem from a radically different angle: emphasizing what the people concerned share rather than focusing on what divides them. This stance ignores deliberately any political, economic or legal considerations, resting its case on the primacy of spiritual values aiming at the emergence of a world in which the foundation is justice, peace, joy and brotherly love.
Indeed, Muslims, Jews and Christians (the people of The Book) account for more than 3 billion souls who claim to believe in the same “God, creator of heaven and earth”. For the great majority of them, whatever their degree of practice or their adherence – or not – to specific traditions, Jerusalem has an actual or figurative meaning and is a shared holy location or symbol. Similarly, among the multiplicity of obediences each religion has spawned, exists a number of “rigorist” and “extremist” movements who, despite representing a small minority, are very significant, exercising an influence totally disproportionate to their numbers and whose activities are fundamentally incompatible with the beliefs they pretend to honor.
In this context, it behooves the relevant spiritual Leaders, who enjoy a respect – and exert an influence -extending far beyond the circle of their engaged followers, to take the initiative to find together a solution to the conflict, inspired by the values they proclaim. The result would be presented in their joint names to their respective congregations and disseminated further afield to public opinion, first to all citizens who recognize the civilizational heritage of the Abrahamic tradition and further to all men of goodwill; they would in turn be called to exert the necessary pressure on both national and international political authorities. The latter would be expected not only to adhere to the agreement but also to provide the expected support of the international community in the financing of conditions allowing the le hardest hit among the population to aspire to peaceful and dignified living conditions.
It is neither my role nor my competence to suggest which religious groups should be represented, the place and the agenda of the talks, the format of the meetings or any other conditions that participants deem necessary to ensure the success of their initiative. Nevertheless it seems to me that it will need an appropriate length of time and that, at a minimum, a truce should be observed during the negotiations.
On this Whitsunday, those who are believers will perhaps join me in invoking the Holy Spirit to guide mankind towards a better and more peaceful world.