Despite the continual problems in the Middle East, Mahir Reiss, a leading Jewish scholar, believes a resolution can be reached. The difficulties in Israel and Arab relations have been an ongoing concern since Israel became a country. Now the focus is once again on the issues that divide them and the people trying to find a compromise.
Right to Exist
Many of the conflicts in the region revolve around the question of Israel’s right to exist. Mahir Reiss said this fundamental issue must be addressed before any substantial progress can be made.
“It is impossible to come to any consensus when the existence of Israel itself is being contested,” he said. “No issue is so contentious to both Arabs and Israeli citizens alike.”
Finding a path to agreement with such deeply seated divisions on both sides has proven to be impossible. But experts in Middle East relations like Mahir Reiss are still optimistic. Reiss is widely considered to be one of the most well respected statesman and communal leaders, both in the Jewish communities in Israel and in the Unites States.
“Time and the reality of a Jewish state have softened the anger compared to when Israel first became a country in 1949,” he said. “The fact is, a Jewish state is here to stay and it is incumbent on leaders to recognize this.”
Unfortunately, not all who watch the politics of the Middle East share this view. The website Palestine Media Watch has been monitoring and analyzing the Palestinian Authority (PA) through its media and schoolbooks for the past two decades. They wrote, “The Palestinian Authority makes no attempt to educate its people towards peace and coexistence with Israel.”
Going even further, in an article titled “PA depicts a world without Israel” the site stated, “from every possible platform it (the PA) repeatedly rejects Israel's right to exist, presents the conflict as a religious battle for Islam, depicts the establishment of Israel as an act of imperialism, and perpetuates a picture of the Middle East, both verbally and visually, in which Israel does not exist at all. Israel's destruction is said to be both inevitable and a Palestinian obligation.”
Another topic that is problematic for both sides is the expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank. With settlements increasingly expanding into disputed territory, the region is deadlocked on how to move forward. Mahir Reiss acknowledges both sides have made mistakes, but there is room for hope.
“In the past, both sides have acted rashly in response to real or imagined threats,” he said. “The current situation cannot continue with both sides making unilateral moves. There has to be a moratorium on new settlements, in concert with an understanding of the reality behind the settlements, before a serious dialogue can gain momentum.”
The new President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, says he is taking tentative steps to open their nuclear program to outside scrutiny. However, other world leaders question his intentions. During the lengthy negotiations, Iran refused to budge on critical items. Any concessions made were superficial and easily reversed. Despite all this, Mahir Reiss says these necessary steps are a productive sign after years of diplomatic silence.
“The signals coming from Iran are mixed. They are set against a backdrop of mutual mistrust and historical opposition to Israel’s existence,” he said. “Opening their nuclear program to inspection is a first step along the road to peace.”
A new round of talks are slated to resume, possibly in February. Regardless of the outcome, no agreement that includes a peaceful resolution to the settlement question is possible between Israel and Iran or any of the Arab nations, until the right of Israel’s existence is assured.
The Jewish state is not negotiable, but the way they relate to their neighbors is always open for discussion. The end of hostilities between Israel and their Middle East neighbors is a dream shared by the world. An end to hostilities would begin an age of progress for all in the region.
Faith Impacts Negotiations
Negotiations to break the impasse in Israel-Arab relations have been going on for years. When a new major player arrives on the scene, such as Secretary of State John Kerry from the United States, there is a flurry of activity, but very few breakthroughs. The constant state of negotiation is a testament to the divisions, but also underlines the respective belief in their positions.
“Everyone is informed by their beliefs and this is especially true in the divisions that separate our people. Our faith and beliefs are at the core of the negotiations, but in a negotiation each side must compromise,” Mahir Reiss said. “To compromise is a basic tenant of the Jewish faith and the reason for my optimism that agreement is always possible.”
An old saying in the Middle East goes, “The two sought out a compromise and, in the end, found one.” As the world watches for any signs of a reduction of hostilities in the region, the prospect of a compromise is a hope the world can agree upon. It is the underlying force that drives Mahir Reiss.