Why Territorial Solutions Won't Solve the Arab-Israeli Conflict

President Obama's latest effort to promote a "two-state" plan, his September 23 speech at the U.N., avoids the real problem. (Barry Rubin's analysis of that speech is masterful.)

Obama, his predecessors, and most other politicians and pundits base their "solution" on the false assumption that the conflict between Israel and its neighbors is over territory. If this were so, the conflict could have been solved a long time ago. The basis of this conflict, however, is not territorial or political, but religious -- and this misunderstanding explains why such plans fail.  

True, most non-Arab Muslims aren't jihadists; they don't want to fly airplanes into buildings or blow up supermarkets and buses. But what does Islam say, and who is the authority? If Islam contains both radical and moderate traditions, and both are authentic, how is one to differentiate?  

Conventional wisdom says that we must distinguish between radical and moderate Muslims and encourage those who don't want to destroy non-Muslims and their cultures. Daniel Pipes, for example, has written, "Muslims must emulate their fellow monotheists by modernizing their religion."

There are Muslims, many in India, southeast Asia, and North America, who oppose fanatic Islam, violence, jihad, and terrorism. There is no such movement, however, in Arab countries. Muslim university professors, journalists, and writers living in Western countries who are critical of radical Islamists have absolutely no influence on jihadist groups around the world or the vast numbers of Muslims living in Arab countries; they are lucky to stay alive.    

Since all Muslims use the same texts -- which include obligations to jihad supported by leading Muslim clerics, and these passages cannot be changed without undermining Islam itself -- the problem is much deeper than working out political arrangements. It goes to the heart of any Muslim reform movement. Suggesting changes in the Koran and hadith  (stories about Mohammed), or denying their divine authority, is heretical -- a death sentence. 

Can anti-Jewish/Christian statements in the Koran be expunged? Can laws that inflict the death penalty, amputations, or lashing for non-capital offenses be expurgated? Can slavery be abolished in Islam?

Is Islam a "religion of peace," as President Obama and others say? Yes, but it is also a religion of war.  

According to experts, suicide bombing ("martyrdom") and jihad ("holy war") are not radical ideas in Islam; they are intrinsic parts of that belief.

Radical political Islam must be defeated, but is it possible to separate it from "moderate" Islam, since both are based on sacred texts? The distinction between "good" Muslims (non-violent "moderates") and "bad" Muslims (violent jihadists/Islamists), therefore, may be confusing, since all consider themselves "true" Muslims, and mainstream Muslim religious leaders -- although divided on doctrinal issues -- support radical views.

Is political Islam, therefore, a form of totalitarianism masked as religion? Can "spiritual" Islam be separated from political Islam, and will Muslim leaders denounce it?

A few brave Muslims have protested barbarity in the name of Islam, but they do not represent a significant movement, and they lack authority. The fundamental problem in Islam is its duality; it holds contradictory positions, both of which are valid.

This internal struggle between dominant radicals and a few scattered reformers is made more complicated by governments which support the radicals. The U.S. State Department and CIA, for example, support radical Islamist organizations linked with the extremist Muslim Brotherhood, further undermining any chance of those seeking reform.

Not only doesn't the EU monitor activities of the radical Moslem Brotherhood, especially the organizations it sponsors, but it also supports them.

In the spirit of religious freedom, a liberal immigration policy, and, of course, economic interests, Western countries have ignored the Saudi-backed radical Wahhabi influence in mosque-building, staffed by Wahhabi-bred teachers.

The Wahhabis preach war against "infidels" and violence against those who don't follow the rules of Islam. That's not very peaceful. And Muslim leaders around the world encourage anti-Americanism -- as well as hostility to Christians and Jews. Not so tolerant. But is this authentic Islam? 

Despite extensive business dealings between Muslims and non-Muslims, many Muslim religious leaders foment a culture of hatred and violence, quoting scripture and verse. And they are supported by a legal system.

Shariah (Islamic) Law mandates violent jihad as a religious obligation and extreme punishments for those who insult Islam or violate its precepts. Moreover, since there is no central authority in Islam and there are conflicting factions, it is difficult to determine who makes these laws and how they should be applied. 

Why are Islamic leaders silent about stoning a woman to death because she was accused of adultery -- then lashed 99 times when the charge was proved false? Why are Islamic leaders silent about the suppression of women, condoning slavery, the murder of homosexuals, and suicide bombings throughout the world? Where were they when violent Muslim riots engulfed Europe because of a cartoon?

These are crucial questions that Muslim religious authorities must answer.

Protests against the proposed mosque and huge Islamic Center near NYC's Ground Zero have rung an alarm that is reverberating around the world. It is not "Islamophobic"; it is generated by the failure of Muslim leaders to be honest and forthcoming.

By hiding or deliberately camouflaging their sources of funding, alliances, and intentions, Muslim leaders have contaminated any basis of trust. It's up to Muslim leaders to understand that rebuilding trust is a two-way street, a dialogue of respect based on truthfulness. They need to understand that when American security experts talk about "home-grown terrorists," they mean Muslims. That is not "Islamophobia"; it's reality.

The American government from the president on down should stop supporting and funding radical Islamist organizations that are not in American interests. It must nurture an American form of Islam that is consistent with American values, laws, and traditions.

The author, a writer and journalist living in Jerusalem, taught American history at CUNY.
President Obama's latest effort to promote a "two-state" plan, his September 23 speech at the U.N., avoids the real problem. (Barry Rubin's analysis of that speech is masterful.)

Obama, his predecessors, and most other politicians and pundits base their "solution" on the false assumption that the conflict between Israel and its neighbors is over territory. If this were so, the conflict could have been solved a long time ago. The basis of this conflict, however, is not territorial or political, but religious -- and this misunderstanding explains why such plans fail.  

True, most non-Arab Muslims aren't jihadists; they don't want to fly airplanes into buildings or blow up supermarkets and buses. But what does Islam say, and who is the authority? If Islam contains both radical and moderate traditions, and both are authentic, how is one to differentiate?  

Conventional wisdom says that we must distinguish between radical and moderate Muslims and encourage those who don't want to destroy non-Muslims and their cultures. Daniel Pipes, for example, has written, "Muslims must emulate their fellow monotheists by modernizing their religion."

There are Muslims, many in India, southeast Asia, and North America, who oppose fanatic Islam, violence, jihad, and terrorism. There is no such movement, however, in Arab countries. Muslim university professors, journalists, and writers living in Western countries who are critical of radical Islamists have absolutely no influence on jihadist groups around the world or the vast numbers of Muslims living in Arab countries; they are lucky to stay alive.    

Since all Muslims use the same texts -- which include obligations to jihad supported by leading Muslim clerics, and these passages cannot be changed without undermining Islam itself -- the problem is much deeper than working out political arrangements. It goes to the heart of any Muslim reform movement. Suggesting changes in the Koran and hadith  (stories about Mohammed), or denying their divine authority, is heretical -- a death sentence. 

Can anti-Jewish/Christian statements in the Koran be expunged? Can laws that inflict the death penalty, amputations, or lashing for non-capital offenses be expurgated? Can slavery be abolished in Islam?

Is Islam a "religion of peace," as President Obama and others say? Yes, but it is also a religion of war.  

According to experts, suicide bombing ("martyrdom") and jihad ("holy war") are not radical ideas in Islam; they are intrinsic parts of that belief.

Radical political Islam must be defeated, but is it possible to separate it from "moderate" Islam, since both are based on sacred texts? The distinction between "good" Muslims (non-violent "moderates") and "bad" Muslims (violent jihadists/Islamists), therefore, may be confusing, since all consider themselves "true" Muslims, and mainstream Muslim religious leaders -- although divided on doctrinal issues -- support radical views.

Is political Islam, therefore, a form of totalitarianism masked as religion? Can "spiritual" Islam be separated from political Islam, and will Muslim leaders denounce it?

A few brave Muslims have protested barbarity in the name of Islam, but they do not represent a significant movement, and they lack authority. The fundamental problem in Islam is its duality; it holds contradictory positions, both of which are valid.

This internal struggle between dominant radicals and a few scattered reformers is made more complicated by governments which support the radicals. The U.S. State Department and CIA, for example, support radical Islamist organizations linked with the extremist Muslim Brotherhood, further undermining any chance of those seeking reform.

Not only doesn't the EU monitor activities of the radical Moslem Brotherhood, especially the organizations it sponsors, but it also supports them.

In the spirit of religious freedom, a liberal immigration policy, and, of course, economic interests, Western countries have ignored the Saudi-backed radical Wahhabi influence in mosque-building, staffed by Wahhabi-bred teachers.

The Wahhabis preach war against "infidels" and violence against those who don't follow the rules of Islam. That's not very peaceful. And Muslim leaders around the world encourage anti-Americanism -- as well as hostility to Christians and Jews. Not so tolerant. But is this authentic Islam? 

Despite extensive business dealings between Muslims and non-Muslims, many Muslim religious leaders foment a culture of hatred and violence, quoting scripture and verse. And they are supported by a legal system.

Shariah (Islamic) Law mandates violent jihad as a religious obligation and extreme punishments for those who insult Islam or violate its precepts. Moreover, since there is no central authority in Islam and there are conflicting factions, it is difficult to determine who makes these laws and how they should be applied. 

Why are Islamic leaders silent about stoning a woman to death because she was accused of adultery -- then lashed 99 times when the charge was proved false? Why are Islamic leaders silent about the suppression of women, condoning slavery, the murder of homosexuals, and suicide bombings throughout the world? Where were they when violent Muslim riots engulfed Europe because of a cartoon?

These are crucial questions that Muslim religious authorities must answer.

Protests against the proposed mosque and huge Islamic Center near NYC's Ground Zero have rung an alarm that is reverberating around the world. It is not "Islamophobic"; it is generated by the failure of Muslim leaders to be honest and forthcoming.

By hiding or deliberately camouflaging their sources of funding, alliances, and intentions, Muslim leaders have contaminated any basis of trust. It's up to Muslim leaders to understand that rebuilding trust is a two-way street, a dialogue of respect based on truthfulness. They need to understand that when American security experts talk about "home-grown terrorists," they mean Muslims. That is not "Islamophobia"; it's reality.

The American government from the president on down should stop supporting and funding radical Islamist organizations that are not in American interests. It must nurture an American form of Islam that is consistent with American values, laws, and traditions.

The author, a writer and journalist living in Jerusalem, taught American history at CUNY.