Now that the Persian Gulf war is over, the urgent search for peace between Arabs and Israelis is under way, and it is already running up against familiar roadblocks of hatred and intransigence.

It is time to take a new approach that is as old as the Middle East itself - reconciliation through religion, because there can be no peace among Mideast nations without religious peace.The nations involved in the Middle East conflict represent the world's three great monotheistic religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. These religions have much in common. All three are of Eastern Semitic origin. All are prophetic in character (a belief in creation and in an ultimate redemption). And all claim Abraham as their ancestor.

If they were to reflect on this origin, they could make an extremely important contribution to world peace.

These prophetic religions of Islam, Judaism and Christianity believe in one and the same God, the God of Abraham. They believe in the one God who tolerates no other gods, powers, rulers and figures; who is not just the God of one people, but of all peoples; who is not a national God, but Lord of the world; who wants the well-being of all peoples.

We can thus see that there is a very real foundation for an ecumenicism of the three religions which together could form a monotheistic world movement with an ethical focus. This relationship could be called an Abrahamic ecumenical movement.

I cannot see how, after so many failed attempts, there can be peace in the Middle East through a resolution of the Palestinian question unless this Abrahamic ecumenical movement can be made an effective factor in world politics. How else can anyone guard against the religious fanatics in all camps who are preventing reconciliation?

But the most difficult issue of all is finding a solution for the city of Jerusalem, a city which, in the course of its 3,000-year history, has known many overlords; a city which is holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians.

The destiny of Jerusalem in world history is to be holy to all three Abrahamic religions at the same time. In addition, there are holy ties to Jerusalem that are specific to each religion. For Jews it is the city of David, for Christians the city of Jesus Christ, and for Muslims the city of the prophet Mohammed.

Thus, Jerusalem is not just a piece of land. It is a religious symbol. And religious symbols need not necessarily be politically exclusive.

Some people have called for "internationalizing" Jerusalem. Tel Aviv, they say, could be Israel's capital and Ramallah could be the capital of a Palestinian state.

But there is perhaps another solution. The Palestinians are seeking a political identity. They want self-determination and their own flag. Why, in a new age, shouldn't peaceful coexistence be possible so that two flags can wave over Jerusalem - the Jewish flag with the star of David and the Palestinian flag with the crescent?

Would that be so unheard of in history, a city with two flags? Don't the standards of Italy and the Vatican now fly over Rome, which was similarly disputed?

Why shouldn't the symbolic Old City become the capital for the state of Israel and the state of Palestine, since a new division would be nonsense in economic, political, social and religious terms.

This could be the first element of an overall political and religious solution for Jerusalem. A second element could be provided by a differentiation between the capital and the seat of government, which need not necessarily go together.

As with the discussions over Bonn and Berlin in Germany, the Old City of Jerusalem, which is the symbolic section, could be the neutral capital for Israel and Palestine. The Israeli center of government would remain in Jewish New Jerusalem and the Palestinian center of government could be formed in Arab New (East) Jerusalem - each center of government on its own territory, but not separated from the Old City.

Specific conditions could be negotiated. Where there is an ethical will to make peace, there is usually a political way.

But how, in the center of Israel, can the question of the old Temple site, the Haram el-Sherif, be incorporated into a peaceful solution? This would be the third element in an overall political and religious solution for Jerusalem.

The three Abrahamic religions need a religious symbol, a common holy place, as a great sign that all three worship the one God of Abraham, and therefore have something fundamental in common that could overcome all divisions and all enmity. Peace, founded on common faith, could be symbolized in a common holy place.

The fact is that there already is a sanctuary for the one God of Abraham: the Dome of the Rock, a unique holy place on the old temple site in Jerusalem that is often wrongly called the Omar Mosque, although it is not in fact a mosque.

According to Jewish and Muslim tradition, the Dome of the Rock commemorates not only the blinding of Abraham's son, Isaac, but also the creation of Adam, and will be the scene of world judgment.

Is it so utterly absurd to believe that, after a religious and political settlement between Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Muslims and Christians could pray to the one God of Abraham at this holy place? In this way, the Dome of the Rock would be a Dome of Reconciliation for the three religions that derive from Abraham.

Is all this an illusion? After the war, the cards are now reshuffled, and it will be even more difficult to win the peace than it was to win the war. Violent, aggressive emotions have been let loose, almost as in World War II. But a more sober mood will follow on all sides just as it did after that war.

Humanity as a whole, like individuals, seems to learn only from bitter experiences. Will we all become mature enough to arrive at a new peaceful order in the Middle East after this catastrophic gulf war?

1991, New Perspectives Quarterly

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