Jesus of Nazareth wept as he looked at Jerusalem, lamenting over the city and its history of conflict. (Luke 13:34)
Jerusalem, a profoundly holy city to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, has continued to be at the center of conflicts in the region, though ‘the failure on Jerusalem’ is a far too simplistic assessment of why peace efforts have been unproductive so far. Indeed, a cottage industry has grown up around why peace efforts have not succeeded, as Dennis Ross’ book “The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace”documents.
Nevertheless, many would agree that the status of Jerusalem in any future peace efforts is a very important and very delicate matter. Yet, on a 36-hour visit, GOP candidate Mitt Romney simply referred to Jerusalem as “the capital of Israel,”, despite the fact that the United States, like other nations, maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv.
This statement was matter-of-fact and not a “gaffe.” But it was very revealing. On the whole, Romney tour so far has actually demonstrated a lot of consistency in terms of showcasing Romney’s approach to foreign policy.
Romney’s “gaffes” in London received a lot of press both in England and the U.S., as he appeared to lecture the British on preparedness for the games. But, I do not believe Romney was intending to be rude. I think these comments show the kind of foreign policy he would conduct; a “CEO” fixes the world approach. The British got a performance review from the former CEO of Bain Capital.
But here’s the thing about the Middle East: no American entrepreneurial “fix it” approach is going to work. Without recognition of the complex religious and geopolitical histories and contradictions of the religion, Americans will only make things worse.
In fact, Romney did make things worse, even on this 36-hour visit. At a donor dinner, Romney praised Israeli business acumen and “culture,” and unfavorably compared the productivity of Palestinian-controlled areas, ignoring the fact that overall control of the regions rests with Israel in terms of access. Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, immediately expressed outrage
“It seems to me this man (Romney) lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people…He also lacks knowledge about the Israelis themselves. I have not heard any Israeli official speak about cultural superiority.”
With these business comparisons at the fundraiser, Mr. Romney also claimed a “spiritual connection” to the land of Israel. He noted that he could see “the hand of providence in establishing this place and making it a holy city.”
Yes, indeed. Jerusalem is holy, and it is holy to three religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Jerusalem has been sacred to Judaism since the 10th century, B.C.; it is regarded as the location of God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac (Genesis 22:2), and Jerusalem is central to Jewish religious consciousness. Jerusalem is sacred to Christians as the location of some of the most significant moments in the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. In medieval times, Christians thought Jerusalem was the center of the world, calling it “the navel of the world” (Latin: umbilicus mundi). Jerusalem is also considered a sacred site in Sunni Islamic tradition, along with Mecca and Medina. Jerusalem is sacred to Muslims not only because previous prophets were associated with the city, but also because Islamic tradition holds that the prophet Muhammad visited the city on a nocturnal journey.
Romney’s declarations about Jerusalem did not seem to account for this; his flat assertion of the “capital” of Israel, moreover, fails into the “CEO” approach to foreign policy. It’s a little like why Walgreens has become so successful by moving all their stores to corner locations. If location is a problem, then fix the location.
I believe we are seeing Romney’s approach to foreign policy being taken out for a test drive on this trip, from “gaffes” about British preparedness for the Olympic Games to the “capital” of Israel remark, the overarching paradigm for Romney abroad is America as the world’s CEO.
This analysis is not necessarily contradicted by Romney’s description of his “spiritual connection” to Israel. This can very well be what he feels, but I also heard that statement as an attempt to connect to American evangelicals. Having a “spiritual connection” to Israel is, in part, why American evangelicals are so strongly drawn to Israel, and why they give a lot of money to help build settlements in the West Bank. Other evangelicals, such as Glen Stassen and David Gushee, have objected to this approach as a “destructive direction” for the future of peace.
There is no “solving” the religious differences over Jerusalem, or indeed over this region of the world. There is no path to peace that does not go through these many layers and contradictions. The CEO model does not capture that.
Religious difference can be part of the path to peace, however, and the holiness of Jerusalem to Judaism, Christianity and Islam can be a way to achieve a spiritual as well as a political accommodation on Jerusalem in a genuine peace process. Marc Gopin presents this idea so effectively in his classic work, “Holy War, Holy Peace: How Religion Can Bring Peace to the Middle East.”
Gopin points out that what actually works in regard to resolving conflict is working through significant difference: “It is a fundamental belief, call it a principle of faith, of those who practice peacemaking or conflict resolution that humans can better resolve conflict with aid from others, as well as with the help of various processes of self-awareness and healing.”
Collaboration, self-awareness and healing are the skills need to make peace; these are skills that are not part of the ‘Mr. Fix it’ model of American entrepreneurship, especially when applied to foreign policy.
Romney undertook this trip abroad to show us his approach to foreign policy. I believe he has.