Rami Khouri, Daily Star Editorial
Pope John Paul II made a poignant case for Middle East peace on
Thursday, averring that “it is reconciliation that the holy land needs:
forgiveness not revenge, bridges not walls.” Coming as they did during a
meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, the pontiff’s words
were not just accurate but also timely. It has to be added, however, that
while the Vatican has periodically urged the parties to the Arab-Israeli
conflict to settle their differences at the negotiating table, its
remonstrations have been neither forceful nor regular enough to exert a
And nor has Rome, by any means, been alone in failing to provide powerful
advocacy for a fair and speedy peace: Muslim and Jewish religious leaders
have been even less helpful.
It defies logic that people of faith and the clerics who hold so much
influence over them should regard peace as anything but a top priority. So
long as innocents are dying, priests, sheikhs and rabbis should be united in
demanding an end to the carnage. Instead, many of them have allowed
themselves to be swayed by nationalist slogans and even to utter
chauvinistic comments whose only effect can be to worsen existing divisions.
There are inter-communal organizations that strive to counteract the
rhetoric employed by hard-liners, but they need help in demonstrating the
possibility of peace and the utility of tolerance. A good part of that help
has to come in the form of better secular leadership that seeks to lay the
groundwork for understanding rather than fanning the flames of hatred and
This is where Qurei’s role is so crucial. Rightly, the Pope implored both
sides to end the appalling cycle of tit-for-tat violence and urged the
Israeli government to abandon construction of its controversial wall around
(and into) the West Bank. It is Qurei’s Palestinian Authority (PA), though,
that might have the most essential part to play. Before he and his
colleagues can claim the moral authority to seek fuller assistance from
religious leaders, they have a clear obligation to clean up their own mess.
The PA’s innumerable problems have been exacerbated by the struggle with
Israel, but domestic corruption and incompetence are what made the
Palestinian people so vulnerable to the current socioeconomic crisis.
Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s record on this score is abominable,
but there is still time for Qurei to prove his worth by making the best of a
bad situation, thereby preparing for the potential opportunities of the
future. He has a right to ask for help, but only if he is willing to
shoulder a large part of the burden himself. He must be wiling to invest his
own political capital before expecting anyone else to do the same.