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For more than half a century, peace has been a seldom known state of being in the Middle East. Israel has fought several wars against its Arab neighbors, as well as struggled with religious tensions from within. The current Intefadah has been going on for nearly 10 months, with over 600 people dead with no progress.

Israel is a nation that has a good mixture of progressive spirit, but also a dangerous mentality that has escalated this conflict to very dangerous proportions. The roots of the conflict lie in the strongly blurred lines between a secular state and a religious state. It is this ideological conflict that has to be solved first before there can be peace.

The reason Israel has become such a powerful nation is because of the secular nature and structure of the state. Although I myself am Muslim, many Jewish friends of mine who have visited or have family in that nation have mentioned to me that most people there are not overly religious, and live just like westerners. As a result, the nation is highly westernized, with several industries, as well as a booming software industry known as Silicon Wadi. However, the problem lies in the fact that the nation was founded on religious purposes. The flag of the nation holds a religious symbol and is run by Jewish people. This has been the main root of the conflict, where the Muslim and Palestinian populations have felt threatened.

The result of this feeling of threat has led to a polarization of society. This has led to a defacto system of apartheid between the Palestinians and Israelis. This cleavage along religious lines has effectively evolved to mirror cleavage along economic lines. The religious excuse is the precipitating effect, where the underlying causes are particularly economic. The Palestinians see it as humiliating that the good jobs are all in Jewish Israel, and increasingly look to religious violence as a means to blow off steam. If in any case Palestine is granted statehood, the problems would still be there, particularly because they want to establish a religious state.

As Israel used its identity as a religious state to attract Jewish people and form a strong secular state, polarization of the ethnic conflict became more significant. Jews became more staunchly embedded in their mentality, and the Muslims became a lot more hardline. As a result, conflict after conflict has arrisen, and there is no immediate solution.

What has to occur in the Middle East is social unity between the Israelis and Palestinians. Forget the Mitchell Report and cooling off periods. Right now, the Palestinians have nothing to lose (which is why so many fight as suicide bombers).That's like taking Aspirin to get rid of a headache. If the headache is caused by a tumor, problems will just come up again. Israel no longer needs to use the guise of a religious state to attract Jews. There are millions there already running the state. Instead of taking Aspirin, undergo massive, but lifesaving, brain surgery. They must move towards integration and tolerance to have peace.

If Israel makes a slow but deliberate attempt to integrate Palestinian people into their society, especially economically, the polarization will diminish. But, Palestinians would have to make a very strong effort to themselves become a secular people, which is extremely difficult after so much religious polarization. People will have no reason to revolt if they can call even a part of the state their own. The only way this can be done is if Israel decided to become fully secular both in name and nature. The hardline Muslims will no longer need their own state if they feel they are adequately represented in the secular Israeli state. It would take a lot of time, but it would happen.

Although this sounds nice in theory, the biggest problem lies in the fact that both sides are so polarized at this point that they would never want this to happen. Both want peace through victory, which will never happen, despite how powerful your military or your martyrs become. All that will happen is continued escalation and more unnecessary death. However, there is some progress towards this. This week, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited Turkey, an overwhelmingly Muslim nation that is also a secular state. In effect, an equal opposite of Israel, a Muslim state with a secular government. These nations are official and actual Allies, who work together towards security. This shows some will on Israel's part to become less religious and more secular. There are some hopes to solving this conflict that has already claimed so many lives, and unfortunately will claim many more.

The problem with the idea of integrating Palestinians into Israeli society is that if all the Palestinian refugees are integrated into Israel, Israel will cease to be a Jewish state. There are approximately 5 million Jews currently living in Israel, along with roughly a million Israeli Arabs and a hundred thousand or so Christians. There are about 3 million Palestinians currently living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. If the right of return is granted(which would have to happen to integrate Palestinians into Israel) I am sure that the number of Palestinians returning to Israel would increase somewhat, perhaps to the point where Jews would cease to be a majority. Israel was created as a Jewish state, albeit with a (mostly)secular government, and anything that could put Israel's status as a Jewish state in jeopardy is going to be opposed by Jews the world over. This is why integrating the Palestinians into Israel won't ever happen - it would fundamentally change the Jewish nature of Israel. I think that the only hope for peace is some kind of division of land. I hope that at some point the US will step in and make an effort to help the peace process, and perhaps offer the Palestinians financial aid to encourage them to accept an offer similar to the one Barak made at Camp David. However, as long as both sides are so willing to resort to violence, and unwilling/unable to curb the hardliners on each side(Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Jewish settlers in the West Bank), I see very little chance for any sort of reconciliation.

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