The recent Israeli election was a victory for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Although only 24% of Israeli voters cast ballots for Netanyahu's Likud party, it was enough to ensure that the incoming Israeli administration will likely be led by Mr. Netanyahu. The victory came with a cost. To attract votes from the Israeli right wing, the Prime Minister made deplorable statements widely understood to be an outright rejection of the two-state solution and implored Israeli Jews to vote because Israeli Arabs were voting in large numbers. These statements were condemned by many groups ranging from Jewish organizations in the U.S. to the U.S State Department. We at PFMEP join in condemning political rhetoric that hinders the cause of peace for nothing more than political advantage, and PM Netanyahu’s statements reside squarely in that category. Days after the election, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s seeming reversal of his earlier statement on Palestinian statehood and apologies for his comments about Israeli Arabs have failed to remedy the situation he created.
In such a milieu, it is hard to retain hope for a two-state solution, but we are people of faith, not people who pursue political expediency. We work over the long term, not for short-term political ends. A two-state solution is the only possible just peace. It is the only option that allows both Palestinians and Israelis to have self-determination. It is the only option that has widespread international support. This is not a time to abandon the strategy. It is a time to insist on the strategy.
It is interesting to see the convergence of opinion between the extremists on both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict. One-state solutions are promoted by Boycott, Divest and Sanction activists (including some within the Presbyterian Church) who seek an end to a Jewish state. One-state solutions are also promoted by some right-wing Israelis who seek to make the West Bank a formal part of the Jewish state. If either side prevails, the people of Israel and Palestine will lose.
Those who think the obstacles to peace lie solely in Israel have ignored recent events in the Palestinian community. Just a few weeks ago a jury in New York found the Palestinian Authority (PA) liable for terror attacks that killed and injured American citizens in Israel. Central to the jury’s finding of guilt was an ongoing PA practice of paying salaries and financial incentives to Palestinians convicted of participation in terror attacks against innocent civilians in Israel. Over 4,000 Palestinians currently serving sentences in Israeli prisons for the murder and maiming of civilians are receiving these payments, which are substantially greater than the salaries of ordinary Palestinian workers and approximate $100 million per year in total expenditures. This money comes from an entity, the PA, that receives direct funding from the U.S. and European governments. Palestinians convicted of common crimes such as theft and robbery are not eligible for this compensation program.
Regrettably, we are not aware of any State Department or White House comments on this issue, nor any demands from the U.S. or European governments that this immoral and unconscionable practice be stopped. Just as Prime Minister Netanyahu’s words set back the cause of peace, compensating terrorists for their acts of violence calls into question the credibility of Palestinian Authority leadership and their professed commitment to peace. Actions speak louder than words.
Palestinians continue to face serious internal challenges in addition to those posed by the ongoing conflict with Israel. The Gaza Strip has been under the control of the jihadist group Hamas since 2007 and there is no sign of Hamas’ willingness to relinquish power or back off its stated commitment to the annihilation of Israel. In the West Bank, Palestinian Authority President Abbas is in the 10th year of a four-year term and there is little progress on national elections.
Perhaps because of the Hamas election victory in 2006, the West has seemingly given up on Palestinian political development and democracy. We think this is a very serious mistake. Most West Bank Palestinians want a peaceful future for their families and have demonstrated their commitment to coexistence with their actions. Over 100,000 Palestinians either enter Israel to work each day or work in Israeli industrial areas. Without progress toward Palestinian democracy and more openness and freedom of expression, however, there is no framework for those Palestinians of good will to strengthen their position and ultimately prevail. This is not an issue that the international community should be silent on.
While recent developments in Israel and Palestine are deeply discouraging, we are Christians who believe that God is always working for justice. Therefore, we believe that a just two-state solution is far from dead. We join with millions of others in continuing to work for it. A strong majority of ordinary Israelis not only support the idea of two states living side-by-side in peace, but see eventual establishment of a Palestinian state as vital to the future of a Jewish-majority and democratic Israel. The PC (USA) needs to continue to support the majority of people in the region who want peace and justice through a two-state solution.