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Monday, May 22, 2017

Donald Trump brings God into the negotiation room

At Shimon Peres’s funeral last year, famed author Amos Oz described the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a simple but striking metaphor.
 
“Because Israelis and Palestinians cannot suddenly become one happy family, cannot jump together into a double bed and go on a honeymoon, there is no other way than to divide this house into apartments,” he said, “and to turn it into a house for two families.”
        
The competing claims for the same territory by Israelis and Palestinians have often been described in terms of real estate. The Land of Israel — or alternatively, “historic Palestine” — is but a piece of property that needs to be divided, and as soon as we can figure out how to do that fairly, the conflict will end.
 
Leaders in Jerusalem and Ramallah have long embraced this narrative, and while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recent years introduced nationality or peoplehood into the equation — by demanding the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state — both sides have been extremely wary of attempts to view the century-old conflict through a religious lens.
 
It is somewhat ironic, therefore, that Donald Trump, a former real estate magnate, is the one seemingly departing from the position that this conflict is merely about competing claims to a piece of land.
 
Instead, he appears eager to effect a paradigm shift: Rather than approaching Israel/Palestine as a property that a good negotiator can convince both parties to divide, he approaches the issue, at least initially, as a conflict of good versus evil that could easily be solved if only the good people of all religions would unite against those abusing faith for their wicked ends.
 
“This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it,” Trump said Sunday in Saudi Arabia, referring to the fight against terrorism. “This is a battle between good and evil.”
 
Addressing political leaders from Arab and Muslim countries, Trump mentioned “God” a whopping nine times. The theme of his speech was the joint need to combat terrorism, but it was infused with a spiritual message. “Religious leaders must make this absolutely clear: Barbarism will deliver you no glory — piety to evil will bring you no dignity,” he warned. “If you choose the path of terror, your life will be empty, your life will be brief, and your soul will be condemned.”
 
For “many centuries,” Christians, Muslims and Jews have been living “side by side” in the Middle East, Trump went on. “We must practice tolerance and respect for each other once again — and make this region a place where every man and woman, no matter their faith or ethnicity, can enjoy a life of dignity and hope.” READ MORE