Faith and Political Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

This autumn’s issue of the Review of Faith and International Affairs has brought together an appealing group of articles which re-pore over the role of faith in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The issue reminds me of the voices I hear raised at conferences who complain that those worried most about the compatibility between Islamic immigration and European Christian culture aren’t really Christian politicians; that those most actively blocking democracy in Muslim countries aren’t Islamists; and that for all its talk about religious conflict, the Clash of Civilizations is never really framed theologically. In short, these articles appeal because, as Dennis Hoover writes, despite the overstated religious tenor to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, religion has still yet to really play a role in the making of its political peace.

The central theme of many of the articles, from Andrrea Bartoli to Dennis Brown, Suhail Khan and Michael Ostrolenk, is to think about how to recapture sacred tools and empower sacred leaders to respond to the sacralization of a conflict whose solution seems to lay outside of the political. In this sense, the articles are short on concrete proposals and often remain long on the level of anecdotes and hope. But, still, the hope and anecdotes help trace out resources which are already available to religious leaders in the Middle East, and it is a good idea to finger them to the front in this moment of negotiation possibility.  So Ostrolenk tries to dig about themes of reconciliation and mercy which run through Judaism, Christianity and Islam and propose them as catalysts for the negotiations, as they had been in places like South Africa and Chile. Bartoli leverages the Christian virtues of repentance and hospitality to make a point about the political potential for mercy. And Suhail Khan offers stories about religious leaders in the Middle East using sacred words well to speak to their constituencies’ spiritual needs for political peace. Food for thought as the peace envoys are stuck in salvage mode.