An open letter to the Palestinian Prime Minister designate Ismail Haniya

By Alon Ben-Meir

I am addressing this letter to you because you are known to be a pragmatic man and also a believer. Use your pragmatism and belief in God to alter the destiny of your people and walk them to the “promised land” because they have suffered enough.

The long history of the Holy Land attests to the fact that no other land has seen so much glory and despair or touched the souls of so many. It is a land that has shaped the destiny of its inhabitants and witnessed the rise and fall of many ancient empires, including the Assyrian, Persian, Babylonian, Roman, Greek, and the Ottoman Empire. All failed to live up to their promise. By denying human rights and justice to those who lived there, they rendered themselves unfit to possess the land. Consumed from within, in the end all perished.

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You must know that neither Israelis nor Palestinians can have it all: It is impossible in the profoundest sense to build one’s home on the ruins of another’s. The self-consuming cycle of violence must stop. For nearly a century, Israelis and Palestinians have been at war. During the time they have inflicted terrible wounds on each other. Governed by misguided leaders, the two peoples have acted out of blind hatred and animosity, poisoning generation after generation. Today cold-blooded murders, suicide bombings, stabbings, abductions, and other hideous crimes perpetrated by one side are countered by the other side with demolition of homes, detentions, targeted killings, expulsions, and daily humiliations, each of these actions defying the very premise of the religious connection of both peoples to the land. So its sacred soil is defiled.

Let me share with you my own humble observations: Every time I travel to the Holy Land, I visit the Haram Al-Sharif, the Temple Mount. There I linger, watching scores of Muslims flocking to the great Golden Dome of the Rock and Al Aksa Mosque. They come to pray to almighty Allah for his mercy and compassion and to pay homage to his messenger Mohammed. I make my way down the steps to the Western Wall of the Temple (known as the Wailing Wall), destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 75. Thousands of Jews visit this entrancing edifice daily to relive history or watch it unfold. Some come to pray; others to seek salvation; still others, to repent. Some visit and ponder; others pray for absolution. Some are on a simple human quest: they seek good health and peace of mind, while others gape in wonder, spellbound by the imposing wall and what it means to them.

Across an invisible, deepening emotional divide, Arabs and Jews weep silently for the loss of loved ones, victims of merciless violent conflict, and pray for an end to the tragedy that has befallen them. Separate, yet together in their yearning, both peoples pray for peace. Here they are, the holiest shrines for Jews and Muslims, juxtaposed, with no possibility of either side altering anything in these sacred settings. Every stone, every gesture or movement has the same message: There is no escape from cohabitation, no way out of coexistence. Separate but inseparable, this is the destiny of Jews and Muslims. The echoes of Arab and Jewish prayers mingle in the air, reaching out to the same God. The Islamic Resistance Movement platform “believes that the land of Palestine has been an Islamic Waqf throughout the generations and until the day of resurrection, no one can renounce it or part of it. Or abandon it or part of it…” But you know that the historical record, the way the three monolithic religions; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam evolved, and the reality on the ground refute the stated assumption in the covenant.

The dream of Israelis to live in their ancient homeland and that of Palestinians to have a state of their own do not cancel each other out. Rather, they provide the sole basis for sharing the land equitably, though under separate rule. The ancient world thrust Israelis and Palestinians together. Now, in our own time, the children of Abraham have returned home to join their cousins. This is neither an historical accident nor an aberration of time and space. The Wall and the Dome of the Rock summoned them together long before the first Palestinian youth and Israeli child died in the current inferno. The radicals on both sides must remember that the campaign to dislodge each other from the land will fail because Israeli-Palestinian coexistence is an historic reality anchored in a religious promise more powerful than blind fanaticism and deeper than their perverted convictions. This is the most compelling reason why the pain and anguish must now end. The salvation of the souls of both peoples and the redemption of the soil must be the task at hand.

I ask you: How many more deaths of Israelis and Palestinians must God witness in silence? How much more blood must spill? How much more destruction and despair must these two peoples endure? How could this land, the cradle of three great religions, have become the killing fields for its sons and daughters, victims of extremism, delusion, and the tragic denial of each others’ rights? Hamas can kill another hundred or a thousand Israelis; thousands of Palestinians can be expelled or shot to death, but then what? Israelis and Palestinians will be left still facing each other. As both sides reposition themselves, they will be talking with one another, simply because there is no other option. Except the hatred will run even deeper, and mutual fear and suspicion will extinguish the last vestiges of trust, taint every gesture and action. The loss of human live and the sustained suffering will have taken their toll, further scarring hearts and minds, making negotiations increasingly intractable.

Mr. Haniya, the truth is that Israel does not need your recognition or your acceptance of previous agreements with the Palestinian Authority. If you insist on violent resistance, your people will suffer far more disproportionately than Israelis ever will. Israel is a reality whose existential being is beyond the capacity of Hamas or the combined Arab States’ to alter by any means, including force. Only by recognizing Israel and adhering to existing internationally accepted agreements can you secure a place under the sun for your people based on a two-state solution. You must know that the majority, the mainstream Israelis and Palestinians, believe in coexistence, believe in their mutual right to live on the same land, believe they share the same destiny, and that they must live and let live to make the Holy Land truly a land of milk and honey.

In this holy setting, a breakthrough vision must be summoned to create a larger picture of promise. Please remember that if the religious teachings and practice you ardently invoke in support of your historic rights have any bearing on the outcome, then God has already spoken.

P.S. I will be happy to meet with you to present in person the merits of my argument.

Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU and is the Middle East Project Director at the World Policy Institute, New York. [email protected]