The Holy Land should be for everyone, and everyone should like to have it that way; but — alas — each wants it for themselves. This question has been going on for millennia; and human ego being what it is and seeing what is currently happening, the question is likely to continue for many more. Today’s three great religions all attribute their heritage to being descendants of Abraham: Jews, Christians and Muslims. And like siblings they have been squabbling with each other ever since. It is time at least to enter adolescence — with the hope that it is on the way to adulthood.

We are told that when Moses led the Jews out of captivity in Egypt, crossing the Red Sea to the Sinai Peninsula and into what is known today as Palestine, his followers had “returned to their historic home”: Israel. The Israelites were distinguished in that era by their belief in one supreme deity: Yahweh. All other peoples worshiped multiple gods, each with special powers.

Eventually, ancient Israel was conquered by the Babylonian Empire that was located in today’s central and southern Iraq. The upper class Jews were transferred to Babylon. That exile lasted about 50 years until the Persians, today’s Iran, conquered the Babylonians. Then there began a transfer of Israelites back to Jerusalem and ancient Israel. There the Jews were relatively autonomous until the Greek, Alexander the Great, conquered Palestine in 332 BCE. Eventually the Israelis successfully revolted in 142 BCE and regained their independence. Over the centuries, there have been continuing battles over who controlled the territory of the Holy Land.

Islam was established in the seventh century CE. Six years after the Prophet Muhammad’s death, the leader of the Islamic state conquered Jerusalem: the Muslims took Jerusalem from the Christian Byzantine Empire and claimed it for their faith. Several decades later, they built their mosque: the Dome of the Rock atop the ruins of the Jewish temple, which the Romans had destroyed 500 years earlier. During the crusades, around the 12th century CE, the Christians battled the Muslims over Jerusalem. The area of Palestine and Jerusalem in particular has been the center of continuing battles for territorial control over many years right up to the beginning of the 21st century CE.

There always has been a Jewish population in what is called in modern day parlance, Palestine. In the Jewish tradition, the area was frequently called Zion. Political Zionism arose in 1897; and in 1917, the British Empire’s Foreign Office head, Lord Arthur Balfour, issued an official letter (the Balfour Declaration) to Baron Rothschild (representative of the Jewish people) that stated that the British Empire favored the establishment in Palestine of a national Jewish homeland. It was understood that nothing should be done to prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities living in Palestine. Following World War I, the League of Nations granted to Britain, the Mandate for Palestine: to establish the political, administrative and economic conditions needed to secure the establishment of the Jewish national home. In 1947, the United Nations voted in favor of the partition of Palestine that proposed the formation of an Arab state, a Jewish state, and a UN-administered Jerusalem. That marked the beginning of the modern day turmoil that we continue to face today. In 1967, the surrounding Arab countries attacked Israel, intending to reclaim the Palestinians’ homeland. After six days (the Six Day War) the Arabs were soundly beaten. In addition, Israel acquired the Golan Heights from Syria, the West Bank from Jordan, and the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. The latter was ceded back to Egypt a little later. Like children in the Abrahamic family, the squabbling continued. There does not seem any real interest in either party to mature and live up to the ideals of their deity. Human ego is involved, yet again: I want what is rightfully mine!

The Oslo Accords of 1993 with the Declaration of Principles, signed in Washington, D.C. by Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, are fondly remembered for the potential they offered for a final settlement. The event was hosted by President Bill Clinton and it was hoped that decades of deadlock between the Palestinians and the Jews was finally going to end. The Palestinians were ceded the territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as the beginning of a so-called “Two State Solution.” The agreement excluded decisions on the thorny issues of control of the city of Jerusalem, Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory, borders, and the fate of Palestinian refugees living principally in Jordan. However, the agreement did state that those issues were to be considered and resolved beginning three years later in 1996. Rabin said at that time that “Jerusalem is the ancient and eternal capital of the Jewish people.” He believed that an undivided Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty, with religious freedom for all, was and remained a fundamental Israeli position. This sounds good — but not to a Muslim and especially if you are a Palestinian.

Since then, there have been intifadas (Palestinian uprisings). In 1996, the Hamas party was elected to power in a free Palestinian election. Hamas, supported by Iran, wants eventually to regain the Palestinian Home Lands for themselves. They took over control of the Gaza Strip and a rift continues to exist between them and the PLO who govern in the West Bank. Separate peace treaties signed by Israel and Egypt in the 1970s and then later by Jordan have not abated any of the continuing tensions in the area. The problem areas, deferred for decision in the Oslo Accords, continue to be the main points of contention now 14 years after they were to have been resolved.

Currently, the United States is attempting to get proximity negotiations under way by President Barack Obama’s envoy to the area: George Mitchell. In the mid 1990s, Mitchell was very successful in mediating and helping to resolve a prolonged dispute in Northern Ireland. (The hope was he could do the same in the Middle East.) The plan for the proximity negotiations is for Mitchell to meet with one side and obtain some proposals. Then he would meet with the other side and present the first’s offers. He would then return to the first side with the responses and counter offers; and so the discussion would continue. (Like children, neither side wants to talk directly with the other.) Israel’s recent revelation that they would begin building new Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians regard as their rightful capital, would seem to have seriously interrupted those plans.

The “two state solution” for the Holy Land might seem to be unattainable. Talk is beginning to turn to a “one state solution” with both peoples living under the control of one government. With time, this would benefit the Palestinians because of their higher birth rate and the Palestinians and the Israelis both know this. And so the stalemate continues.

When will it end? It may take another millennium.

I hope not.

Tom Putnam is a retired pediatric surgeon who lives with his wife, Barbara, in Rockland. He serves on a variety of nonprofit boards, as well as municipal committees, and is a communicant of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.