As the 220th Presbyterian General Assembly approaches, we want to share with you what we hope to see accomplished with respect to Middle East peacemaking. We have four major goals:
1. The Assembly will embrace a role as peacemakers, not as advocates for one people consumed by condemnation of the other.
2. The Assembly will act in a manner that advances peace with a credible voice.
3. A clear and consistent policy message will be developed and accurately communicated.
4. Our peacemaking efforts will not damage Jewish-PCUSA relations at the local congregational level.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God”
These simple words of Christ embody what is asked of us as Christians, and the importance of peacemaking in the eyes of God. A peacemaker works to soften the hearts of those trapped in conflict. To do this, a peacemaker must be respected by both parties, be able to speak truth to both sides and be able to work effectively and productively with all people of good will. Sadly, too much of what has been put before past general assemblies erodes our ability to be seen as a fair and open mediator/peacemaker. When we see, exacerbate, and even create new conflict, something is wrong.
Polling reveals that 70% of Israelis and Palestinians support the two state solution. Would not PCUSA efforts be most productive if we helped give voice and power to the 70% in both communities who have identified and support a reasonable solution rather than seeking to demonize one side or the other?
Be a Credible Voice
Without a sound foundation in facts, we cannot be a credible voice for peace and reconciliation. Our hope is that the coming general assembly takes care that all statements be based on a solid understanding of facts on the ground. Failing to do so will damage our credibility, and mean that we will not be taken seriously as peacemakers.
Some of the proposals under consideration for the next general assembly effectively ignore unfortunate but important facts. For example,
Regarding Israel’s Security The PCUSA has a long standing policy of advocating a peace settlement that guarantees Israel’s security. However, the Iranian-backed Hamas organization remains committed to the complete destruction of Israel. From Hamas controlled territory, rockets and mortars are fired at civilians in southern Israel on a regular basis. To ignore Hamas’ commitment to Israel’s destruction and focus solely on “the occupation” as the cause of the conflict is not fact based analysis. A case in point was the letter signed by PCUSA Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons advocating U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state. There was absolutely no mention of the fact that such an action would create a state in which approximately one-half of the new state’s residents (Hamas followers) have sworn to destroy their neighboring state Israel.
Ending the Occupation The idea that ending the occupation will suddenly create peace is not supported by the facts. What happened when Israel ended the occupation of Gaza?
Kairos Palestine The Kairos Palestine document is recommended by some for its emphasis on love. However, it is a Christian document calling for economic boycotts, divestments and sanctions against Israel. As such, it feeds into the tragic history of economic actions taken or recommended by Christians against Jews.
In spite of these facts, the next GA will again be asked to put pressure on Israel to remove the Israeli security presence in the West Bank through calls to “end the occupation”. Such an approach flies in the face of the approaches recommended by the Middle East Quartet (The United Nations, U.S., European Union and Russia). It also challenges the approach taken by objective individuals such as Judge Goldstone who wrote in The New York Times, “it is important to separate legitimate criticism of Israel from assaults that aim to isolate, demonize and delegitimize it.” (10/31/11) Like the Quartet and Judge Goldstone, we believe the crisis will be ended not by boycotts but by a deliberate and careful process in which Israel continues to gradually relinquish West Bank security duties to Palestinians.
Convey a Clear and Consistent Message
We understand the importance of respectful discussion and the desire to seek compromise. At the same time, statements that are contradictory and confusing should be avoided. Past general assemblies have rejected boycott, sanction, and divestment targeting Israel as counterproductive to the cause of peace. At the same time documents that call for sanctions and divestment, such as the Kairos Palestine document, have been “commended for study” by Presbyterians. This sends a confusing, contradictory and disjointed message to the Presbyterian community and the world.
Likewise, contradictory direction given to the MRTI committee in the past has led to confusion and inconsistency. While divestment has been rejected, recent assemblies have directed MRTI to “engage” companies involved in “non-peaceful activities” in Israel/Palestine. What exactly does “engage” mean in this instance? If “engage” means pressuring companies to cease selling products and services in Israel, this directive contradicts the rejection of boycott and divestment.
All parties to conflict, by the very nature of conflict, are engaged in non-peaceful activities. Defensive actions may be “non-peaceful” yet essential for the safety of innocent civilians and the very existence of a nation. Greater clarity is called for in the directions given to MRTI and other committees of the General Assembly.
For these reasons, we call on the 2012 GA to specifically end the current MRTI process as it relates to Israel and Palestine. Due to contradictory and ambiguous direction, much time and energy has been wasted by MRTI that could have been used in more productive pursuits. THe 220th General Assembly has the opportunity to rectify this, and we pray they do so.
For more infomation on the viewpoints expressed by Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, please visit our website at www.pfmep.org