Opinion Columns & Blogs

Robert L. Sharp: It's all Abraham's fault

The continuing heartbreak of terror inflicted on innocents by both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is sadly not going to be resolved anytime soon, since this has been a problem for more than 4,000 years.

Extremists on one side see Israeli settlements encroaching on the Palestinian West Bank; on the other, they encourage Palestinian rockets and suicide bombers to attack Israel.

Although a minority on both sides, they overwhelm goodwill efforts for peace. Revenge is so ingrained any original outrage can't be remembered, but remains fresh as a motivator.

At the same time, both sides can't get their political acts together. The multiple Israeli political parties, somewhere around 40, require coalitions to form a government, but they can't cooperate and make Israel nearly ungovernable.

The Palestinian Hamas and Fatah parties that can't abide one another also can't cooperate, again an ungovernable situation.

It all goes back to Abraham, whom both Jews and Muslims revere as their patriarchal progenitor (Genesis Chapter 15 to 21), through his sons Ishmael and Isaac.

Abraham's wife Sarah, being of advanced age and supposedly barren, gave her slave Hagar to him as a wife, who "begot" Ishmael, but Sarah miraculously (she was 90) regained fruitfulness and bore Isaac, father of Jacob, 13 years later.

Both Arabs and Jews believe that the Arab people are the offspring of Ishmael, with the 12 tribes of Israel coming from Jacob's 12 children. So the Arabs and the Jews are half-brothers, both offspring of the sons of Abraham.

Here's where the trouble starts. Sarah, now a doting mother, was jealous of Hagar and Ishmael. Abraham, to keep the peace, allowed Sarah to drive Hagar and Ishmael away into the desert.

No honor here. Abraham was foolish to believe Sarah would be happy with him having a second wife and child, and he was craven to allow Sarah to drive them away. Score 1 for making Arabs angry early on.

In Genesis 17:8, God says to Abraham: "I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now alien, all the land of Canaan, as your perpetual possession; and I will be their God."

Of course, this promise of the land contributes to the complexity of the Palestinian issue. If God promised the land to Abraham's descendants, one would think that would include Ishmael as well as Isaac's offspring.

And so the conflict continues.

Robert L. Sharp grew up in Linden and spent most of the following 30 years as an international banker in Asia including four years as a Naval officer in that part of the world.