As the 2012 Presbyterian General Assembly approaches this summer in Pittsburgh, commissioners will be faced with choosing between two distinct paths on Middle East peacemaking. Advocates of the BDS (boycott/divest/sanction) movement will press for divestment from several companies doing business with Israel that have rejected BDS pressure to boycott the Jewish state. In straightforward terms, many BDS advocates recognize the rights of one people, the Palestinians, and the obligations of the other, the people of Israel. We believe this is wrong and will not advance the cause of peace. Most importantly, it is not peacemaking.
The alternative, which we at Presbyterians for Middle East Peace advocate, is to recognize the rights, aspirations, and obligations of both peoples. To see this clearly one must seek different perspectives and understand not only the challenges of negotiation between the parties, but the internal challenges and obstacles that both Palestinians and Israelis face. The two articles below focus on the obligations of Palestinians in the peace process and the internal challenges they must overcome, topics that have been mostly absent from too many Presbyterian discussions of the Middle East. We hope you find them helpful. We also welcome you to visit our website at www.pfmep.org.
The Two-state solution based on “Quartet principles” calls for establishment of a Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel. “Quartet principles” means that the future Palestinian state:
Is firmly and sustainably committed to peaceful coexistence with its neighbor Israel
Respects Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, just as Israel respects the proposed Palestinian state
Maintains the rule of law and does not permit independent armed militias to operate within its borders
Provides its citizens with basic rights of free speech and participation in an open and democratic political process
Respects the rights of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities
Viewed in terms of these essential criteria, Palestinian statehood is a work in progress. In the West Bank, under the leadership of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, substantial progress has been made. Palestinian security forces have improved, and Israeli security forces have been able to turn security responsibilities progressively over to Palestinians. Violence has been reduced. Prime Minister Fayyad has established credibility with both Israel and the international community. Most importantly, the lives of ordinary Palestinians are improving. At the same time, the entire Gaza Strip, encompassing 40% of the Palestinian population, is under the control of Hamas, the militant movement which unequivocally rejects the two-state solution and remains committed to the destruction of Israel. The Charter of Hamas calls for the destruction of Israel, adheres to the motto of the Muslim Brotherhood which declares that “seeking martyrdom is their greatest desire,” and claims a religious mandate from God for Muslims to kill Jews. In addition, members of Palestinian Authority leadership in the West Bank, including Palestinian President Abbas, frequently send a contradictory message to Israel and the international community that foments distrust and hinders the peace process. An example of this occurred last fall in the use of a logo for the Palestinian Mission to the United Nations. The logo shows Palestine encompassing Gaza, the West Bank and all of Israel. That logo is still on its website as we prepare this report. On October 26, 2010 President Abbas was photographed by the official PA daily news service holding up a stone model of a map of Palestine including all of Israel. Also in October, the PA Ambassador to Brazil, Alzeben Ibrahim, stated to a group of university students that "Israel should disappear." The PA website in the United Kingdom has the same logo. The following report was issued by the Press Association-UK: "The UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned the Palestinian Diplomatic Mission to the UK from using a "misleading" interactive map on its website that featured the whole of Israel in the red, green and black colors of the Palestinian flag. The ASA said: "We concluded that the website was misleading and breached our code of advertising practice." On November 26,2011, the PA Ambassador to India, Adli Sadeq, told the official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida that: "The Israelis ...fool themselves (in) assuming that Fatah accepts them and recognizes the right of their state to exist, and it is Hamas alone that loathes them and does not recognize the right of this state to exist. They ignore the fact that this state, based on a fabricated (Zionist) enterprise, never had any shred of a right to exist." The actions and statements cited here speak for themselves as to why Israel approaches peace talks with caution. Palestinian elections have been called for in 2012. A Palestinian government with Hamas as a major participant will not have the support of the international donor community, and will have no ability to negotiate credibly with Israel on permanent borders, economic development, and other critical issues. On the other hand, Palestinians can support leaders like Prime Minister Fayyad, who can advance the peace process and Palestinian statehood. We pray they choose wisely.
As the PCUSA develops peacemaking policy regarding the Middle East, it must employ the clear-headed approach for which Calvinists have been known for generations. We cannot be seduced by rosy scenarios that suggest relatively easy solutions to very tough complicated problems. The problems facing both the Israelis and Palestinians are real and tough. Boycotts or use of military force will not make the problems go away. Indeed, they will only intensify them. As an example of the thorny obstacles that threaten to derail peace in the Middle East, December, 2011 witnessed massive celebrations in Gaza by Hamas to celebrate its 24th anniversary. The comments and actions by Hamas' leaders once again called for violence and the destruction of Israel. Hamas boasted that it has killed 1,365 Israelis in over 1,117 attacks (including 87 suicide bombings), and launched 11,093 rockets at Israeli targets. Ismail Haniyeh, the top Hamas leader in Gaza, stated: "The armed resistance and the armed struggle are our only choice to liberate the land, to liberate all of Palestine from the sea to the river and expel the invaders." The rally in Gaza was attended by school children dressed in military uniforms and carrying fake rockets and rifles. The actions and rhetoric of Hamas stand in sharp contrast to the very concrete peacemaking actions taking place on the West Bank under the leadership of Salam Fayyad, Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority. If the PCUSA is to be an effective peacemaker, it must support responsible voices and parties in both Israel and Palestine while rejecting calls for actions against either party that will only increase tension in the area. Therefore, PFMEP prays for an end to Hamas’ intent to eradicate Israel from the face of the earth; an end to new settlement construction by Israel; and for all parties to return to the negotiating table. Seemingly intractable conflicts in places from Northern Ireland to Serbia-Croatia-Slovenia have been resolved with negotiations. It is not too late for this to happen in Israel and Palestine.