As long as we refer to the Middle East as the "Holy Land" there will be war. For peace to prosper, extremists, on both sides, will have to he marginalized. This will require courage from Israeli and Palestinian leaders, who have failed to take aim at the religious roots of this festering fiasco.
The first step to a brighter future is crushing Hamas. This cowardly terrorist organization indiscriminately fires rockets into cities and then hides behind human shields when Israel's military rightfully responds. Hamas' charter calls for the destruction of Israel and the forming of a radical Islamic Republic that would fly, "the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine."
Unfortunately, many "liberals" are infuriated that Israel is targeting these illiberal and violent theocrats. They mysteriously don't seem to be concerned that the rights of women and other minorities, including gay people, would be greatly eroded if Hamas lorded over a Palestinian state.
By protesting Israel, these well-intentioned individuals in the West are actually prolonging the pain of the Palestinian people. Israel, obviously, cannot make peace with an entity determined to destroy it. The longer Hamas remains viable, the longer these problems will be protracted. As the weaker party, the Palestinians will almost always be on the losing end. A cease-fire with Hamas does little but provide a band-aid solution that ensures future bloodshed.
The fact is, eliminating Hamas would pave the way for reuniting Gaza and the West Bank under Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Having seen the radical alternative, the Israeli government would be favorably inclined to seek common ground with Abbas - expediting the possibility of a Palestinian state.
If this scenario plays out, Israel should move swiftly to empower Abbas by tearing down all illegal Jewish settlements. Nothing has done more to harm Israel in terms of world opinion and done less to improve its security than these outrageous outposts on Palestinian property. Someone has to tell these deluded settlers that the Messianic dream of a greater Israel is over.
Speaking of fantasies, the Palestinian people are going to have to give up their Jihad - which hasn't exactly been a success. In 2006, they voted for holy war by electing Hamas - a group which pays the families of suicide bombers $5,000. If you are going to choose terrorism over tourism as your main industry, don't cry to the world when bombs are dropped on your doorstep.
If the Palestinians face occupation, as they claim, they don't need "martyrs" - they need leaders who will tell them the truth. In 2004, more than 200,000 Palestinians marched at the funeral of Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin, after he was assassinated by Israel.
That's fine, but where are the massive non-violent demonstrations that don't call for the demise of Israel? Such protests would do wonders to further their cause and help undo the image of the suicide bomber. The Palestinian people have to understand that there will be no state - nor should there be - until the average Israeli citizen feels peace will not come at the expense of safety. If the Palestinians fail to offer such reassurances, they will remain stateless and mired in deprivation and poverty.
Checking the powerful and entrenched interests that undermine Middle East peace will not be easy. In America we certainly know how a well-organized minority of ideologues can infect the political process. GLBT equality, for example, has been stymied for eight years under the oppressive Bush Administration. We have seen a concerted effort by social conservatives to hurt our families and legislate our marriages - particularly in election years. And, we saw John McCain place America's future in jeopardy by selecting the unqualified Sarah Palin as his running mate to appease his extreme base. It is still unthinkable that she was nearly a breath away from the Oval Office.
Still, the battle in Gaza is an opportunity to move forward. The Hamas gunmen that Israel is targeting are self-righteous thugs that intimidate moderates who favor peace. Those in Israel who think God commands Jews to have every inch of land - even if it belongs to Palestinian families - are the same types who believe God wants gay pride marchers in Jerusalem to be stoned.
If Israel's true goal is security and the Palestinians genuinely want to secure a state, then I believe peace can occur and both groups can prosper. But, if negotiating is a way for Israel to stall so they can change facts on the ground through new settlements, or for Palestinians to replenish stocks of lethal rockets, God's people will continue to turn this disputed land into a hellhole.
While you can never fully separate religion from the region, the "Holy" must be detached from the actual "Land" if peace is ever to be realized. It is time to return the fanatics to their rightful place on the fringe, so good people on both sides of this divide have a chance to live normal and peaceful lives.