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The Islamic World Should Recognize Israel

At a certain point the Muslim world is going to have to publicly come to terms with the reality that Israel does in fact exist. While there is more than legitimate criticism over the way that Palestinians were forcibly removed from their land over 50 years ago, it serves no purpose to deny that Jews now occupy that land and that a new state was established. To ignore that fact is to ignore reality and would be akin to the Native Americans in this country refusing to recognize the United States of America simply because of how the land that makes up this country was obtained.

Not only is such a strategy ineffective in solving the problem, but it locks the oppressed group in an emotional and political straitjacket that can prevent them from effectively reaching a consensus and negotiating for a redress or "reparations" with the party that has injured them.

No reasonable person would deny that the United States does exist - though in their hearts they may consider it an "outlaw" state by the nature of its establishment. And no Native American group has ever benefited from denying that the US is an independent and sovereign nation.

Following this line of reasoning, the Islamic world can't have it both ways. It can't say that Israel has no right to exist while at the same time railing against it and seeking to gain concessions from Israel through the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Furthermore, how could such negotiations work, even in theory, when one party to the negotiation denies the other's right to exist, as many Muslim nations do with Israel, to this very day?

On this front, Israelis have a legitimate concern.

We have a problem with this government-sanctioned view of Israel, held in many Islamic nations, in part, because this argument is hypocritically crafted for public consumption in a way that enflames tensions and increases hatred and actually fosters inequitable and unjust behavior.

It may also contribute to terrorism.

We especially find it interesting that as official public anti-Israel pronouncements are rendered in some Islamic countries, diplomats in these very same governments are privately engaged in a cordial dialogue with Israeli officials - as if only they, and not their people, are capable of recognizing the reality of the Jewish state.

We mention the above to give context to the recent discussions surrounding Jerusalem's Noble Sanctuary/Temple Mount.

Until the details of the proposal are released no one can be certain of the make up of its contents, but all reports indicate that this most recent US Middle East peace proposal contains a provision whereby Palestinians would be granted sovereignty over the holy site, referred to by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

The Noble Sanctuary/Temple Mount has long been a, if not the sticking point in negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

And it also has been a source of intense emotion and even violence.

In our October 2, 2000 editorial, "Oh Jerusalem, Oh Jerusalem",on this subject we wrote:

"The crux of the problem in resolving the issue is that both sides involved cannot afford the appearance of losing face on the issue. Neither Palestinians nor Israelis are willing to agree to terms that would place certain portions of the city under the control of the other side especially that part of Jerusalem, often referred to as the "Old City" where several sacred sites are located.

To be specific, these holy sites are located on the elevated platform of the Old City referred to as Temple Mount by Jews and the Noble Sanctuary by Muslims. It is on the elevated platform where violence began last Thursday when several Muslims and Arabs were infuriated by a visit to the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary by Israeli nationalist and former Defense Minister Ariel Sharon. Many Muslims and Arabs despise Sharon due to his leadership of the 1982 Israeli invasion and occupation of Lebanon, which led to the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians in Beirut.

Sharon, in the view of many, arrogantly displayed disrespect for Muslims and Arabs on Thursday when he was escorted by 1,000 Israeli riot police through the Noble Sanctuary during a Muslim Prayer service. Sharon intended the visit to the Noble Sanctuary to provide a public demonstration of Israeli's sovereignty over the site, which Israel took from Jordan in 1967. Though Israel captured control of the holy site, Muslims handle the daily management of the site."

Now, reports - here and abroad, indicate that the elevated platform, where violence erupted after Sharon's visit, is to be placed under Palestinian sovereignty. The Islamic world has wanted this for years, having been assured by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat that he would be sympathetic and responsive to Muslim concerns regarding their holy sites.

This is a major breakthrough and would be an enormous concession if Ehud Barak were to agree to this arrangement and if the Israeli Knesset approved it.

If the elevated platform were placed under Palestinian jurisdiction, this would be an arrangement that goes far beyond the arrangement discussed in September that would have split sovereignty on the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary between the UN and the Organization Of Islamic Conference (OIC) who in turn would have granted Palestinians temporary supervision over the area.

At this late juncture in the peace process, and with President Clinton and possibly Ehud Barak on their way out of power, it would behoove the Islamic world to support any portion of a peace proposal that grants Palestinians outright sovereignty of the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary area or which even allows for shared sovereignty with involvement from the international Islamic community.

And the window of opportunity to do so may be closing.

One can only imagine what the negotiations will be like if Ariel Sharon, who is running against Barak in elections to be held next February, comes to power in Israel.

Coupling that possibility with the added dynamic of newly-elected US President, George W. Bush serving in the capacity of mediator, should give the Muslim world something to ponder.

We have not forgotten President-elect's one-sided condemnation of the Palestinians and Yasser Arafat after Sharon's visit sparked violence in September.

With a new Israeli Prime Minister and US President seeking to establish themselves as "strong leaders" we have serious doubts as to whether Palestinian sovereignty over the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary would be as high up on the list of options as it currently is reported to be.

The time has now arrived for the Islamic world to effectively unite behind the Palestinians, but in a fair and balanced way, which strengthens the Palestinian's hand in peace negotiations and which doesn't incite hatred and inequitable treatment for the Israelis.

A united Islamic world would provide balance to the negotiations that have, at times, suffered from US bias toward Israel.

Now is the time for the international Islamic community to honestly assess its attitude and official position toward Israel and now is the time for it to put its weight behind the Palestinian people and the aspirations of all in the Middle East who seek peace, including Christians and Jews.

In recent days we have seen some of the Muslim world's anger toward Israel, most pointedly in Saddam Hussein's call for a holy war; now it is time for a display of its statesmanship and diplomacy.

And we believe that the Islamic community could begin to assume that noble role if Muslim nations would begin to recognize, officially, that the Jewish state of Israel does in fact exist and is a partner in the resolution of this conflict.

Such recognition could go a long way towards resolving a bloody conflict and winning the concessions that Palestinians and Muslims so earnestly seek.

It may be a necessary step if a lasting peace is to be crafted in that part of the world.

Cedric Muhammad

Thursday, December 28, 2000

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