Sen.(R-Fla.) visited the Middle East last week and met with Israeli President and Prime Minister during his weeklong stay. Rubio is visiting in his capacity as member of the Senate’s Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees.
The ubiquitous Rubio is being touted as a presumptive Republican candidate for the presidency in 2016. He has not been wasting any time coming to the forefront of the Republican Party these days, beginning with his curious Republican response speech to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union, which sparked discussion on whether he is seasoned enough to give national speeches. His visit to Israel last week could pose some similar questions.
In anticipation of his visit to the Middle East, Rubio blogged, "I am especially looking forward to meeting with President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss various areas of mutual interest, including the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. I also look forward to meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad,” newsmax reported.
During his official visit with Israel President Peres last Wednesday he made the stunning statement that Jerusalem is “of course the capital of your country, ” according to a report in the National Post. He reiterated America’s bipartisan support for Israel. Does this statement further a peace process that includes the Muslims of Palestine, or does it create a barrier with the assumption and foregone conclusion that Israel has supremacy in the region, including the city of Jerusalem?
Who has the right to claim Jerusalem?
In 2011, Jerusalem’s population was 801,000. Jews represented 64 percent together with other non-Arabs and 36 percent were Arabs, as published in Israeli National News last year.
Jerusalem is considered an international city by many and is unique among cities in the world. Millions of Jews, Christians and Muslims claim it for religious, historical and cultural significance. It is sacred to the three primary monotheistic religions of the world because significant events took place there.
Roger Friedland and Richard D. Hecht wrote in the 2000 book "To Rule Jerusalem":
Israel was first forged into a unified nation from Jerusalem some three thousand years ago, when King David seized the crown and united the twelve tribes from this city [Jerusalem]... For a thousand years Jerusalem was the seat of Jewish sovereignty, the household site of kings, the location of its legislative councils and courts. In exile, the Jewish nation came to be identified with the city that had been the site of its ancient capital. Jews, wherever they were, prayed for its restoration.
Approximately 1.5 million Christians visit Jerusalem yearly. It is considered the holiest Christian city since it is the site of the Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection ofChrist. The city is mentioned more than 100 times in the New Testament. The Last Supper took place there, and Jesus is said to have been crucified and buried on the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
There is, however, one significant difference for Christians. There is nothing in the New Testament directing followers of Jesus to make pilgrimages to the holy city. This contrasts with Islam and Judaism. The Quran instructs that it is a duty of the followers of Islam to make a hajj (pilgrimage). The Books of Exodus and Deuteronomy order Jewish males to make journeys annually to the Temple.
Jerusalem became an Islamic city in the first half of the seventh century when the Muslims entered the Holy City in 636 during the reign of the second Muslim caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab.
It was the first Kiblah (direction) to pray in which God ordered Muslims to pray toward the Holy Shrine of Mecca. Prayers offered in Jerusalem at al-Aqsa Mosque are said to be equal to 500 prayers. Al-Aqsa Mosque was said to be the most remote place
Jerusalem is precious to every Muslim because they believe Jerusalem and the surrounding areas are holy land, not to be given to anyone because of their connections to the Islamic faith.
Should Jerusalem become an international city?
An Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement is inextricably linked to the status of Jerusalem, and it is one of the most complex and sensitive issues to solve.
Israel believes a united Jerusalem should be the eternal capital of the Jewish state. On the other hand, Palestinians say the Arab eastern region of Jerusalem, where the sacred al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock are located, should be the capital of a newly created Palestinian state, as reported in a BBC talking points discussion in 2001.
With a stalemate between the two factions, one solution would be to make Jerusalem an international city or a shared municipality, administered by the United Nations, or declare it a demilitarized city for all faiths who worship there, including Christians.
The Guerrand-Hermes Foundation for Peace has outlined five steps for people of different origins and religions to negotiate peace. The main ideas in the steps include taking responsibility for the conflict, reflecting on the issues, engaging the power of forgiveness and compassion, promoting change for peace and harmony, letting go of guilt and sharing in the process of transformation.
Participating in the process as an effective political emissary begins with creating friendships and not making any controversial public statements. Rubio’s statement about Jerusalem being the capital of Israel was stunning because it assumes the nature and future of the city to be strictly Israeli, alienating the Arab world. Creating a common ground approach instead of sowing the seeds of dissension creates bridges of discovery that can lead to and eventually help implement constructive policies and programs for the welfare of all the peoples in the Middle Eastern region. Jerusalem is central to the peace process, and its future definitely has not been decided.