Cover Story

Making or breaking peace

"Making or breaking peace" Continued...

Issue: "Mission: Impossible?," Oct. 13, 2007

But Israel and the international community would be wise not to ignore the smoldering ashes in Gaza while waiting for peace talks to work. "The critical thing is to make sure Hamas cannot do in the West Bank what it did in Gaza," Ross said. "We need to be certain that we're not pursuing policies that in the end will inadvertently help Hamas."

To what extent does the Israeli-Palestinian conflict feed other conflicts across the Middle East?

Resolving this conflict will not solve all others in the region, but former U.S. envoy Dennis Ross believes there is a connection: al-Qaeda, Hamas, and other terrorist groups use the Palestinian plight to play on a sense of frustration among Muslims at large. "If we want to take away a recruiting tool, it's certainly in our best interest to deal with this issue," he said.

For Muslims in Iran and Iraq, Jerusalem remains important: It's considered the third-holiest city in Islam, and for some Muslims it is the site of a future eschatological drama that will unfold between Isa (Jesus), the Mahdi (a prophesied redeemer), and the anti-Christ.

Yet not all Muslims are on a mission to see Israel destroyed. Both Egypt and Jordan have established lasting peace treaties with Israel. Many Iraqis-fearful of Iran's thirst for domination and the consequences of a U.S. troop withdrawal from their country-see Israel as an ally in the struggle to stand up to Iran's bellicose ways.

Even among the Iranian public there's a general sense of either indifference or sympathy toward Israel. While Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has raised alarm for his threats to "wipe Israel off the map," a large segment of the Iranian public is riveted to a television miniseries that tells the story of an Iranian diplomat who helps Jews escape the Holocaust. Airing on state-run television, the series is based on true events and told as a love story.

A small cry from their original numbers but significant nonetheless, about 40,000 Jews-comprising the largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside of Israel-still reside in Iran, and one Jewish man is a member of parliament.

The real battle in the Middle East is between Islamic extremists and Muslim moderates. And in Gaza and the West Bank, it's a battle for the identity of the Palestinian people.

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