The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Is a War of Religion, Not Territory

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Anyone who has ever suffered from a sore throat and fever and didn’t get well within two days surely went to see a doctor. The doctor took a light and tongue depressor, saw a pair of red, swollen tonsils with white dots, and concluded that the patient had a throat infection. And even though such infections are usually viral rather than bacterial, the doctor prescribed antibiotics to be on the safe side. The patient took them (or didn’t), and usually got well in a few days.

If not, the doctor could try a different antibiotic, and then a third and a fourth, until the patient died of old age. But any reasonable doctor would stop and ask himself: What’s wrong here? Why is the patient not getting any better despite my wonderful treatment?

The answer is logical: a mistaken diagnosis. That would explain the lack of response to the treatment, and the frustration.

I wouldn’t have bothered you with this introduction about bacterial throat infections (somewhat anachronistic, I know, since nowadays there are throat cultures) if we didn’t find ourselves in this very situation in the diplomatic sphere. The war between Jews and Arabs in the Land of Israel has been going on for more than 100 years, and most onlookers, analysts and mediators are convinced that it’s a territorial conflict: Jews and Arabs are fighting over the same piece of land, so the logical solution is to divide the land.

This is a reasonable assumption, and therefore (and also for other colonialist reasons), Churchill came to the Land of Israel/Palestine in 1922 and divided the land. He gave the three-fourths of it east of the Jordan River to the Arabs, while the rest remained a British Mandate for establishing a Jewish national home.

The Arabs weren’t enthusiastic, and their response has gone down in history as the 1929 Arab riots. After that, the British sent additional committees that proposed additional divisions of the land, based on various maps. But every effort ended in a bloodbath: waves of terrorism, “incidents” (aka riots), wars and intifadas. Some 23,000 Jews were killed and more than 100,000 Arabs, but no statesman ever stopped and asked himself why every attempt at dividing the land merely increased the war and bloodshed. The answer, of course, is a mistaken diagnosis.

The conflict isn’t territorial (even though it has many territorial symptoms, and we fight over every acre and every house), but a war of religion, a clash of ideologies. And such a conflict can’t be solved by drawing lines on a map. To Muslims, the Land of Israel will forever be waqf land – land that is part of a Muslim religious trust. And even David Ben-Gurion, who wasn’t “religious,” appeared before the Peel Commission in 1937 and brandished a Bible as the source of our absolute right to the Land of Israel.

But despite this, all the “peacemakers” among us keep prescribing the same medicine of “dividing the land” for the wrong disease. Even today, the only diplomatic plan on the table is negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, yet this is the one that has failed time and again.

Next week, a plan called “Two states for two peoples on two sides of the Jordan – is this alternative feasible?” will be placed on the negotiating table. Granted, this will happen only at a conference organized by Professors for a Strong Israel, which will take place at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem. But the conference will hold an in-depth discussion on the following topic: When the “Arab Spring” reaches Jordan, that country will become a Palestinian nation-state. Thus even if the conflict isn’t solved, at least a new factor will have entered the diplomatic equation, which is currently stuck in a blind alley.

A scene from the first intifada.To Muslims, the Land of Israel will forever be land that's part of a Muslim religious trust. Credit: AP

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