Compromising Values in the Middle East
The problem with politicians is that they come to believe
over time, if not by predilection, that since their essential
function is politics, all problems can be addressed through
compromise. Politicians so seldom get into office by being
statespersons that the politically negotiated solution
is the only one they tend to recognize.
Where one recognizes no deeply held values beyond the
value of compromise that may well be the case. But where
communities hold other values deeply, pleas for compromise
are essentially pleas for surrender.
The recently concluded Middle East peace talks at Camp
David demonstrate the power of community values over politics.
It is a potential continuation of a tragedy to be true,
but because deeply held values are at issue, Middle East
peace is not to be found through pleas for compromise.
Peace in the Middle East will be found peacefully, if
at all, through a solution accommodating deeply held values.
Where the values are seen to be fundamentally incompatible,
compromise is not likely.
While it is true that the three monotheistic religions
hold Jerusalem to be holy, they hold it to be sacred in
significantly different ways. For Christianity, Jerusalem
is a place where sacred events occurred. Christianity,
which has had an ambivalent relationship with the Temple
Mount itself over the millennia, may be able to compromise
without sacrificing important values. More is at stake,
however, for Judaism and Islam. Compromise, correspondingly,
will not be easy for either, and they are the principal
antagonists in this drama.
For Judaism, Jerusalem is more than just a site of sacred
events. It is sacred as the seat of the land promised
the Hebrews by God. Jerusalem, then, is the seat of not
only the Holy Land, but the Promised Land.
Islam, in turn, has two claims to Jerusalem. First, in
the Muslim view, Islam is God's designated successor to
both Judaism and Christianity: anointed to continue what
Judaism and Christianity had failed to accomplish. The
prophet Mohammed, in the Muslim view, was the last of
a line of prophets, including Christ, which began with
Abraham. All the holy sites of the Jews and Christians,
then, are holy sites of the Muslims to the extent the
Jews and Christians got the message right. Second, the
Temple Mount is the site of Mohammed's night time ride
to Paradise, while he apparently slept in Mecca.
So the question that must be asked and answeredbefore
compromise is possiblemay be, which of these deeply
held values must be sacrificed? Or are there other, more
important values that the affected communities share to
which we can appeal?
Survival and peace are values. Survival and peace are
choices. But from time immemorial, human beings have shown
that values such as these religious values are more important
than survival and peace themselves. Peace bought at the
price of deeply held values is seldom sustaining.
Our politicians' pleas must be less for compromise than
for understanding of the role these values play and how
they can be accommodated, if at all. Threats of withholding
aid or moving one's embassy are more apt to flame values-based
passions than lead to compromise.
As ever, community values count, and peace without understanding
and accommodating such values, where possible, is not
Kenneth W. Johnson
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