I don’t profess to be an expert historian and in my yoga practice we are taught not to dwell too much in the past. In fact, yogis would say that the Judeo-Christian faith relies a lot on the idea of atonement to resolve current conflicts, while eastern philosophy recognizes that the past is infinite, marred with various and competing perspectives. I will concede that there is great value in never forgetting where we have been, the mistakes we have made, the victories we have won, but in my practice, I try to concentrate my mind on the present moment.
A few months ago, I went to Israel to expound on the work I do with The Foundation For Ethnic Understanding with my partner Rabbi Marc Schneier. During our week-long trip, we launched our Jewish/Muslim “twinning” program in the holy land. Over the past five years, the Rabbi and I have worked tirelessly on strengthening relations between the beautiful people of these two religions around the world. We have created hundreds of programs in over 30 countries where imams and rabbis “twin” their congregations for joint prayer and conversation. The work has been one of the most satisfying pursuits of my life.
The programs have been tremendously successful with many examples around the world of Jews standing up against Islamophobia and Muslims standing up against anti-Semitism. When we arrived in Israel, at the invitation of President Shimon Peres, we were encouraged by the willingness of many of the important religious leaders to join us in our dialogue. What we didn’t expect is that this promotion of tolerance would also bear major political potential. The fact is, in a country as religious as Israel, the religious leaders could dramatically energize the peace process. Leaders like Chief Rabbi Metzger of Israel and the Grand Mufti Hussein of the Palestinian people, two men who I had the great pleasure of meeting with, could play major roles in the peace process. These two men, one a Jew and the other a Muslim, one Israeli and the other a Palestinian, have it in their power to challenge their people to rise up and settle this conflict once and for all.
It seems so obvious that now is the time, with the recent events in Gaza and the United Nations voting for Palestine to become a non-voting member, the urgency is upon us. I see a clear path to peace, as I don’t carry the burdens of the past, nor do I hold onto the dreams of the future. If we simply look at the present, we will see that there is a plan already proposed that can allow us all to move forward.
The Arab Peace Initiative, also known as the Saudi Plan, was re-adopted by all 22 members of the Arab League in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 2007 (initially passed in 2002). Although the details of the plan are somewhat similar to various peace plans of the past, what is most significant is that this plan implicitly recognizes Israel’s right to exist. That is a first and should not go unnoticed. The Arab League members unanimously endorsed the peace initiative, which consists of a comprehensive proposal to end the entire Arab–Israeli conflict. The main points are:
(a) Complete withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories, including the Syrian Golan Heights, to the June 4, 1967 line and the territories still occupied in southern Lebanon; (b) Attain a just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees to be agreed upon in accordance with the UN General Assembly Resolution No 194. (c) Accept the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since June 4, 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital. In return the Arab states will do the following: (a) Consider the Arab–Israeli conflict over, sign a peace agreement with Israel, and achieve peace for all states in the region; (b) Establish normal relations with Israel within the framework of this comprehensive peace.
It has been 10 years since this plan was first proposed. And in those ten years much has happened in the Arab world. It will be a tragic day for our common enemies if we are able find peace between the Arabs and the Israelis. Now more than ever, the whole world needs you to create balance in the region by accepting this peace plan. It might seem that history is too heavy to do what is right for the people of your nation, but now is the time to come back to the negotiating table and use this as a framework to find a deal. All good men and women of all good books will tell you, no matter how long the darkness has existed, flip the switch, the lights come on just the same. I am optimistic that we have light within us.
Shalom. Salaam. Peace.