Once again, Israel and the Palestinians are headed to the negotiating table. U.S.-brokered peace talks — the first since the end of 2008, when almost year-long talks broke down — are scheduled to take place in Washington on September 2 between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Abbas.
This time, the faces on the Israeli and U.S. side are new, but the issues are not: control of Jerusalem, borders, the status and location of refugees, security, settlements. And there's the continued and formidable challenge of getting the Palestinians — including ruling parties like the terrorist group Hamas, which is not represented at these talks but certainly wields power — to abide by any decisions made.
If there's one thing uniting both sides in this heated debate, it's pessimism. Few seem to believe talks will yield anything more than a rehashing of the issues followed by a reestablishing of the impasse. In an interview, a well-known political columnist in Israel summed it up: "Most Israelis have decided that nothing is going to come out of it, that it will have no bearing on their lives. So why should they care?" A Reuters news article quoted one Palestinian as saying, "It's a failure from the outset," and another, "We have no hope." Netanyahu himself has said he wants to "silence the skeptics" by reaching an agreement with the Palestinians, acknowledging that many are indeed doubtful that anything will come of these talks.
So, why bother? Why, every so many years, gather world leaders in a room to have the same seemingly doomed conversation? Given the history of previous attempts at peace between Israel and the Palestinians, these are good questions to ask.
The answer is that people of faith — Jews and Christians alike — are told to "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem" (Psalm 122:6) and, further, to "seek peace and pursue it" (Psalm 34:14). We know that the true path to peace is charted by God Himself — He, and He alone, knows when it will come about, and whether our efforts will help bring it closer. But, still, we are called to be active participants in bringing about peace, and not to allow our discouragement and cynicism to prevent us from always working for it.
None of this involves being unrealistic. Israel — and any nation that wishes to survive — must maintain a realistic and sober view of its adversaries and refuse to make concessions that will needlessly put its people at risk. Clearly, in this case, Prime Minister Netanyahu — a stubborn realist if ever there was one — has evaluated the risks and potential benefits of negotiations, and has decided in favor of pursuing them.
Let us hope and pray that he has judged correctly. And, no matter what happens — or doesn't happen — in the upcoming peace talks, let us continue to pray and work for peace, and to always remember that we can know peace in our hearts. We can be confident that our job is to keep obeying God's command to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, to keep working toward peace in our families, our communities, our world, and to keep trusting that our God of peace will make good on his promise in his time.