Israeli President Reuven Rivlin told a delegation of Zionist Christians that his country is not at war with Islam.
Speaking yesterday in Jerusalem during a meeting with the head of the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) from Africa, Bishop Barnabas Lekganyana, Rivlin said: "We have never had a religious war with Islam; we understood that we had to live in harmony."
Rivlin's comments appeared to be another attempt to challenge the notion that the conflict in Palestine is a religious war. He had echoed similar sentiments before saying: "We have no dispute with Islam, we did not have, we will not have, and today, too, we don't have."
In an interview with an Israeli TV channel, Rivlin complained about overplaying the role of religion saying: "The nationalist struggle, the Israeli-Arab conflict, has turned into a Jewish-Muslim conflict, and to my sorrow both sides understand this — understand this but are not doing anything about it."
While Rivlin's comments would be met with applause, critics point to the irony of addressing a Christian Zionist delegation – members whose only affinity to Israel is inspired by their Christian teaching – to highlight the non-religious dimension of the conflict in a city that is considered occupied under international law.
Palestinians would also point to the fact that Rivlin's comments betray his own past. The Israeli president is thought to be a seventh generation citizen of the holy city; his ancestors would have lived under centuries of Arab and Muslim rule until their right to self-rule was denied in support of Zionism, which was never an irreligious movement.
Early Zionist like the father of modern day Zionism, Theodor Herzl, and founder of the State of Israel, David Ben Gurion, may have been non-religious but one of their main justifications for wanting to fulfil Jewish aspiration for a national home in Palestine was the Bible and the claim within to the deed of ownership of the ancient homeland granted by God.
One of the main obstacles to the creation of a Palestinian state is the rise of extreme religious Jewish settlers. Not only have they interrupted international law from being implemented, the settler movement has undermined Israel's own secular institutions.