Special US envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell, the man charged with reconciling the Israelis and Palestinians, resigned this weekend.

Mitchell, a former Senate majority leader in the US, failed to achieve peace between the two sides. There’s no disgrace in that – the line of failed envoys is long and well-known. He successfully brokered peace in Northern Ireland, but couldn’t even get things started in the Middle East.

The question is, why?

Obviously, it’s impossible to solve a problem without addressing and treating its true cause. Approaching the Arab-Israeli conflict from the perspective that it is about land, so that giving more land to the Palestinians will solve the problem, is a failed endeavor.

Israel has already given Egypt the whole of the Sinai, and got nothing in return except a cold peace and rising anti-Semitism in the country. Similarly the disengagement from Gaza did not magically lead to a decline in the wave of anti-Semitism in the Muslim world.

Pro-Palestinian Muslim demonstrators across the world repeatedly use the chant “Khyber Khyber Ya Yahood... Gaish Muhammad Sawfa Yaood,” which reminds the Jews that the army of Muhammad is coming back for a repeat of what was done to the Jewish Khyber tribe.

According to authentic Islamic history books, the Islamic army, led by Muhammad, annihilated the Jewish tribe of Khyber, raping its women and killing all its men.

Such barbaric statements against the Jews have been used by many in the Muslim world, and even inside the US and Europe. Sadly the chant was also used on Friday by thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

The Hamas charter also calls for the destruction of Israel. This violent principle has its roots in the traditional Islamic teaching, based on Hadith books, that encourages the killing of all Jews before the end of days.

Until US envoys to the Middle East realize that the problem in the eyes of the Palestinians and their supporters is not the borders of Israel but the very existence of the country, all future missions will similarly fail. Solving the Arab-Israeli conflict must be done initially at the theological rather than the political level, as the former is impeding the latter.

It is unfair to ask Israel to trust those who shamefully advocate the killing of Jews, and claim that Islamic annihilation of the Jews by an Islamic army is a model that must be emulated today.

The problem is not only in the existence of violent teachings in historical Islamic texts, but also in the dangerous desire of many Islamists and violent Islamic scholars to revive such violence in modern times. Violent texts exist in other religions as well, but we do not generally see such destructive desire to use the texts to justify killing others, and we rarely hear about modern scholars of other faiths who advocate using such texts literally.

The problem is that this disastrous anti-Semitic religious dimension is not limited to verses in books, but is also propagated by a powerful media machine that utilizes vicious, Nazi-style propaganda across the Muslim world. Publishing dehumanizing cartoons in the mainstream media, and blaming Jews for nearly every problem in the world has become much too common in the leading Arab media over the past few decades.

It is virtually impossible to promote any form of peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict without reducing such levels of anti-Semitism in the Muslim world.

Until future envoys to the Middle East understand the religious dimension of the problem, and that the Arab- Israeli conflict is not about borders but about the existence of the state of Israel, all future attempts to make peace in the area will fail.

The writer is an Islamic thinker and reformer, and a one-time Islamic extremist from Egypt. He was a member of the terrorist organization JI with Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, who later became the second-in-command of al-Qaida. He is currently a senior fellow and chairman of the study of Islamic radicalism at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies. www.tawfikhamid.com

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