Escalation at the holy sites in Jerusalem have been feared during the month of Ramadan, and all efforts to prevent any violence have failed. The level of escalation is noticeably increasing more recently as it becomes part of the daily life of the city. While diplomatic efforts have tried to contain the situation, the situation on the ground is worsening, with a new tone approaching a religious war with radical statements and increasing violence. Pessimistically, it is difficult to see a solution from outside having any impact on the ground. Promises, pressure and diplomatic engagements are active abroad, but not in the conflict scene.
Arab countries that initiated a peace process with Israel may be considering diplomatic pressure on the Israeli government to act and prevent escalation, and the UAE is leading those efforts. However, realpolitik limits the effectiveness of these efforts as a shift in diplomatic tone and threats to limit security cooperation and condemnations of the Israeli response from countries like the UAE, Saudi Arabia and even Morocco is unlikely to lead to serious actions like cutting relations or ending cooperation. Israel knows this, so initiatives from within the conflict are more likely to pave the way to real outcomes at this stage.
As it stands, the conflict today seems to be driven by religious tensions, and unfortunately, this is likely to increase and expand the conflict, so it is important to withdraw religion as a tool of conflict. This requires a process of parallel diplomacy and religious tools to be used to contain the situation rather than increase the conflict. The real risk of a religious war should motivate all concerned religious powers to take courageous actions in playing a role to prevent religion from being exploited and ensure religion plays a role in ending the conflict itself. This religious diplomacy is the only path that might drive a change from within and take the source of the conflict and make it the driver of peace.
For years there have been many attempts at inter-faith dialogue and inter-religious engagement, so the question today is whether this legacy of dialogue can play a role at such a critical moment. This is the time for all those who oppose the violence and are concerned about the risks that escalation might mean for the future of the region. There is a real need for an international initiative that gathers all religious leaders who can play a role in containing the worsening situation. Political initiatives and diplomatic efforts should support these religious diplomatic initiatives, as the most critical piece is to remove religion’s role in escalating the conflict and ensure we do not see a religious war. It is a time for religion to serve good politics and principled diplomacy.
Political and diplomatic procedures might be very useful in enabling moderate religious visions, as they can put real pressure on the source of the problem while also giving hope for more rational, wiser people to take the lead. This current phase is critical and needs courageous and clear steps, creating a foundation for new reconciliatory narratives and wise voices, as this is the only way to put an end to those who transform peaceful religions into a tool of continuous conflict.
Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh