On Sunday, July 28, the U.S. State Department announced that representatives from Israel and Palestine had accepted an invitation from Secretary of State John Kerry to resume peace negotiations in Washington, D.C. on Monday, July 29, according to Michael Schwartz of CNN.
Kerry has been working since February of this year to try to convince Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to engage in peace talks. On Monday, July 29, Kerry announced that former ambassador Martin Indyk has been appointed as a special envoy to help with the latest round of talks.
There are several obstacles standing in the way of peace negotiations. The biggest one is that the Palestinian government wants Israel to give them land that was seized in 1967 after the Six-Day War. From a purely political perspective, this may make sense. Unfortunately, there are religious issues involved that complicate matters.
According to a Fox News report, “Abbas has been reluctant to negotiate with Netanyahu, fearing the hard-line Israeli leader will reject what the Palestinians consider minimal territorial demands. The Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in 1967, but have accepted the principle of limited land swaps to allow Israel to annex some of the dozens of settlements it has built on war-won lands.
“Abbas had repeatedly said he will only go to talks if Israel either freezes settlement building or recognizes the 1967 lines as a starting point for drawing the border of a state of Palestine.”
Jerusalem is an important place to Jews and Muslims for many religious reasons. For Muslims, Jerusalem is home to the Dome of the Rock, a monument that is supposed to be located at the site where the prophet Muhammed began a journey into heaven described in their religious writings. Jerusalem is the third most holy city in Islam.
Jerusalem is also the only holy city in Judaism, which represents a problem for the Palestinian Authority. Jerusalem was home to the Jewish temple, the only place they were allowed to make sacrifices to God after the original temple was built during the reign of King Solomon. The Old Testament describes several important festivals and other religious events that were held every year in the city of David.
Throughout the Hebrew scriptures, there are many reasons given why Jerusalem is incredibly important as the center of worship for the people of Israel. Observant Jews would never want to give up any part of Jerusalem, even if it might make it easier to coexist with their Palestinian neighbors.
According to Oren Dorell of USA Today, “Netanyahu has said Jerusalem — which Israel unified in the 1967 Six-Day War and claims as its capital — is the heart of the Jewish nation and will never be divided.
“… Abbas says there can be no agreement and no end to the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis without a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the last remnants of the Jews’ Second Temple and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.”
Jerusalem is home to the Western Wall, the last known standing remains of the Second Temple. Many Jews regularly pray and observe other religious rituals there, so that alone is enough to keep at least some Israelis from wanting to share their nation’s capital.
Some Jews have been working for a long time on building a new temple on the site of the Second Temple, so if anything they would want even more control of eastern Jerusalem.
The Muslim interest in Jerusalem is perceived as less valid by many Jews and Christians. Nobody knows for certain where Muhammed’s heavenly journey was supposed to have started, because that isn’t specified in the text. The Dome of the Rock may not be in the right location. Additionally, Jerusalem is much less important to Muslims than the cities of Mecca and Medina, where the prophet Muhammed lived and preached.
From a purely pragmatic viewpoint, sharing the city with the Palestinian Authority may have some appeal. Many evangelical Christians and Jews would argue that Israel has good reasons to keep full control of the city, because of its significance in the Bible and what it means to the Jewish people in general.
Unless an agreement could be reached that would allow Jews to continue worshiping at the Western Wall and continue working on a new temple, negotiations may fall apart purely because of religious considerations.