A Pathway to Just Peace in Israel-Palestine

The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship thanks the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) for its document, Israel-Palestine: For Human Values in the Absence of a Just Peace.  That document, produced by a study team of the denomination appointed in response to an overture passed at the last General Assembly, provides an important overview of the evolving situation on the ground in Israel and Palestine. We commend this document for study by all Presbyterians, and especially by Commissioners to the forth-coming meeting of the General Assembly of the PC(USA). 

We are sobered by the document’s careful documentation of the pattern of changes on the ground in the various domains covered by the Oslo Accords.  That agreement, approved by both Israeli and Palestinian leaders in 1993, was expected to delineate a pathway towards a compromise two-state solution.  The ACSWP study team concluded that while the parties to the dispute “have achieved some limited successes, the situation has stagnated or worsened on the core challenges identified in the Oslo Accords,” a finding that is fully consistent with what we have observed in the course of many visits to the region over many years.

We agree with the study team’s view that it is neither necessary nor helpful at this stage for our denomination to “engage in further political solutions-thinking, given the limited support for a Palestinian state by the United States and the international community in the face of Israeli government resistance.”  We applaud their decision to concentrate instead on identifying and affirming the underlying Christian values that must frame a just solution, no matter what the ultimate political configuration.  Those same values must also guide our actions in the meantime, as we search for more long-lasting solutions. 

The values enumerated in the ACSWP paper are consistent with those of the PPF.  Like them, our[1]  organization is strongly committed to a resolution of this conflict based on non-violent approaches.  We condemn recent acts of violence with knives, cars and guns by individual Palestinians, as we deplore statements from some Palestinian leaders which appear to condone or encourage such acts.  We also condemn the widespread acts of violence by Israeli settlers, routinely condoned by the Israeli military.  Such practices as night-time raids of Palestinian homes, often involving capture, interrogation, and incarceration of young people, with no legal protection, are all human rights violations which should be recognized as forms of state terrorism. The report also documents the regular confiscation of land and destruction of Palestinian homes, unequal access to water, schools, roads and all the benefits of civil society, including legal redress and citizenship rights, all of which constitute structural violence against the Palestinian people. 

We are disturbed to read of Israeli policies which magnify Jewish history and footprint in Jerusalem at the expense of Muslim and Christian presence, threatening to shift a land and water-based conflict into a thoroughly religious one. When combined with increasingly clear statements by several leaders of the Israeli government affirming their intention to incorporate all of the West Bank into the State of Israel, it is understandable that many Palestinians have lost hope in any “peace process,” which they see as a smoke screen behind which the depth and breadth of the occupation of the West Bank has continued to spread.

With the writers of the report, we recognize that acting on the basis of the values they set out will present challenges in confronting violent acts and human rights abuses on both sides of the conflict.  The Palestinian leadership has often fallen short of what is required in dealing with conflicts within their own community. Yet, with the report, we affirm that the Government of Israel has consistently used its overwhelming power to expand the occupation and annexation of Jerusalem and the West Bank, making it increasingly difficult to envision a just solution based on two states living in security, side by side.

Many Presbyterian pastors have recently received a booklet entitled Two States for Two Peoples. That booklet, from a group called Presbyterians for Middle East Peace (PMEP),  summarizes their hope for a way forward based on “foundation-building through grass-roots, expanded person-to-person interactions; economic cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis; and political developments and policies that advance peace.” Each of these is surely desirable.  Yet the truth is that each of these approaches has been sincerely and repeatedly tried since the start of the military occupation of the West Bank in 1967.  To say that doing them more and better in the future will be the key to reversing the spread of the occupation seems to us to be seriously mistaken.

In our own response to the on-going expansion of the occupation, we are guided first of all by the words of our Christian partners in Israel-Palestine.  Their deepest analysis of their situation is presented in a document entitled Kairos Palestine, 2009: A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering.  In that document, participants from the major Palestinian Christian denominations and church groups have joined their voices with those of others in Palestinian civil organizations to “call on individuals, companies and states to engage in divestment and in an economic and commercial boycott of everything produced by the occupation” (para 4.2.6). 

We affirm the ways in which our denomination has responded to that plea, following procedures of engagement and decision-making that have been used effectively over the years to  challenge conflicts and inequities around the world.  In Israel and Palestine, the denomination’s decision has been a commitment to boycott products made in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and to divest from key corporations that profit from the use of their products in the creation and enforcement of the occupation.  The PMEP booklet wrongly characterizes those decisions as rooted in an effort to  create a one-state solution. That is a misrepresentation of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s position, which has always distinguished between the pre-1967 borders (recognized by the Palestinian National Council in 1988) and Palestinian territory captured in 1967.  In our view, the denomination’s focused policies of boycott and divestment reflect the church’s deeply-held values, moral integrity and solidarity with those who suffer.  The church does not want to profit from corporate activities that contribute to an illegal occupation and associated human rights abuses.

In supporting the ACSWP report, Israel-Palestine: Human Values in the Absence of a Just Peace, we encourage the church to stand firmly for universal values and human rights, even if any peace process appears dead. We stand for that original international vision of a fair arrangement for both peoples with a genuinely shared Jerusalem for all three Abrahamic faiths. That kind of mutual respect could be the basis for a just peace for Israel and Palestine and across the wider region.