Tell The President - Peace In The Holy Land Must Be A Priority Now!
"On the holy mountain stands the city he has founded; Then Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
Of Zion it shall be said, 'Everyone was born in her,'
And the Most High himself shall sustain her."
-- Psalm 87 (page 711, Book of Common Prayer)
The Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been in the news a great deal of late. Changes in the region have brought new external hostilities to Israel from her neighbors. Palestinians living under occupation have watched powerlessly as settlement building in their homeland has continued at a rapid clip. At the United Nations last month, the leaders of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as well as President Obama, spoke about their desires for peace, and the Palestinians brought forward a resolution asking for recognition of statehood, but actual negotiations toward peace still elude the parties. Last week, the prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas, the entity which rules the Gaza Strip, served as a stark reminder of the role that political violence and extremism play keeping a just peace out of grasp. President Obama's leadership toward peace, though at times engaged, has yet to bring the parties closer to one another, while the United States Congress meanwhile has behaved irresponsibly with reckless threats to terminate aid to the Palestinian Authority. As Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori wrote in a pastoral letter to all Episcopalians on this subject last month, the present moment is wholly untenable, but a future without peace is more untenable still.
In the midst of this moment of paralysis, and the sense of powerlessness it can produce among all who long for a just and lasting peace, what can Americans do to be peacemakers? The Presiding Bishop provided two concrete suggestions in her pastoral letter: (1) Support for the institutions of the Christian communities in the Holy Land through organizations like the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and Episcopal Relief and Development; and (2) Advocacy that will help bring the parties back to the table for peace negotiations.
Engaging this second suggestion, we will, in the coming weeks, be writing to engage your advocacy on a variety of topics related to Arab-Israeli-Palestinian peace. Today, we begin with the subject of peace negotiations themselves.
In recent weeks, some have suggested that the time for negotiations has run out or that the process is fundamentally broken, that negotiations are not possible unless certain pre-conditions are met (a subject we will address in depth in coming weeks), that the leadership of one side or the other does not really want peace, or that American leadership toward peace has failed irreparably. None of these things is true. As the Presiding Bishop reminded us, echoing a recent statement from the heads of all of the major Christian churches in Jerusalem, "a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians can only be achieved by bilateral negotiations between the parties themselves." Nearly all agree what a just peace looks like: a secure and universally recognized state of Israel living alongside a viable, sovereign, and secure state for the Palestinian people; a sharing of the holy city of Jerusalem as the capital of both states, with free access by all people to the holy sites; a total cessation of all violence between Arabs, Israelis, and Palestinians; and an agreement for the fair sharing of crucial resources like water. While we know that this is what peace must look like, and while the vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians support this kind of peace, unless their leaders are willing to sit down for negotiations, a just peace cannot be achieved. The rest of us, who count ourselves as friends to both Israel and the Palestinian people, must work to encourage and support this.
Last month, in the wake of the Palestinian request for recognition of statehood at the UN, the Quartet for Middle East Peace (the United States, the UN, the European Union, and Russia) offered a constructive plan to get negotiations moving again in a way that is designed to produce measurable and durable results along a specific timeline. It is now time for the parties to accept this plan or agree to another plan of comparable engagement. As Americans, we can urge our President, whose Administration participated in the creation of the Quartetâs plan, to devote substantial and sustained diplomatic energy in the coming weeks toward getting the parties to agree to sit down with one another and to remain at the table until a peace agreement is reached.