Volume > Issue > The Key Issue in the Middle East Conflict

The Key Issue in the Middle East Conflict


By Landrum R. Bolling | June 1989
Landrum R. Bolling has been President of Earlham College, Chairman of the International Quaker Working Party on Middle East Peace, President of the Lilly Endowment, Chair­man of the Council on Foundations, Research Professor of Diplomacy at Georgetown University, and, most recently, resident Rector of the Ecumenical Institute (Tantur) in Jerusalem. A member of the Society of Friends, he is cur­rently in Washington, D.C., writing two books and serving as International President of Jerusalem's Ecumenical Insti­tute.

No issue in the whole vast sweep of interna­tional affairs is more subject to anguished, often angry, debate than that of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Yet, in none of our public-policy discours­es is it more urgent that we seek an honest and fair-minded facing of the facts — and a spirit of mutual respect and civility among those engaged in such a dialogue. The stakes for Israelis and Arabs, for Jews, Muslims and Christians, for Middle Easterners and Westerners — for anyone in any way concerned with this conflict — are enormous.

Moreover, the Middle East remains the most explosive, the most dangerous region in all the world, in terms of its potential for triggering a glob­al catastrophe. It is also the site of what, in modern times, is one of the most painfully protracted strug­gles ever fought by two worthy peoples contending for one small piece of land — and on which each has a plausible and legitimate claim. The emotional linkages to the two sides produce, among their partisans, highly extravagant rhetoric about the issues, sharply differing perceptions of the issues, and seemingly irreconcilable “solutions” to what many have come to consider an utterly unresolvable strug­gle.

That struggle, since the outbreak of the Pales­tinian Uprising (the Intifada) on December 9, 1987, has been transformed into an even more hellish kind of disaster, as can be well documented by any of us who has lived through even a few months of this intensified daily, violent confrontation. The new level of struggle has brought indescribable suf­fering to the one and a half million Palestinians (under Israeli military occupation for more than 20 years), greatly expanded the repressive measures which the Israeli military itself labels its “Iron Fist” policy, provoked bitter debates within the deeply divided Israeli government and its youthful armed forces, seriously damaged the Israeli economy, and shocked, stunned, and confused millions of Israeli supporters, Jewish and non-Jewish, around the world.

It is no wonder that the reporting of the daily events of the uprising and the Israeli efforts to put it down should set off heated disputes. The con­tending views recently expressed in the pages of New Oxford Review (Dec. 1988 and March 1989) are but a mild reflection of the roaring glob­al debate over media coverage of the Israeli/Pales­tinian conflict.

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