image of jerusalem 2013

Citizens’ Choices, Politicians’ Mandates!
Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart - W B Yeats

19 August   |   2001   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

‘The face of the Church of Jerusalem is a torn face, torn by pain and sufferings … We wait for the day when God will respond to the prayers of all those who implore him for the peace of Jerusalem. We implore him to make his own love the dominating sovereignty over all human conflicts and disputes, in the city he chose to be the city of redemption and reconciliation of all humankind with himself.’

This is one short excerpt of the powerful message that HB Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem carried with him to the Sioux Falls diocesan gathering of the Catholic Church in the USA. The message was crystal clear - a plea for peace, as much as an affirmation that Christ’s crucifixion was also a manifestation of his divinity and of the power of his love. This pacific plea also coincided this week with the ecumenical prayers for peace in the Holy Land undertaken by the Churches of Jerusalem. The challenging theme of those prayers comes from St John’s gospel ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you; Do not let your heart be troubled, or afraid (Jn14 :27).’

So what is happening in the land of the prophets today in the face of such pleas for peace? True, there has been a lull in the fighting. But this temporary lull between the two sides could also lead to another chapter of painful deaths and injuries if the opportunity is not seized to redress the situation. But can we any longer rely solely on the old formulaic approaches to peacemaking? Or is there perhaps a need to introduce another fresh dimension into the whole process? Have the various initiatives that have encroached upon both parties helped nudge them toward conciliation? Has a new and bold vision appeared on the horizon?

Hardly! And this negative reality reminds me of Albert Einstein’s warning that trying the same thing over and over with the expectation of a different result is the definition of insanity! So if we postulate for one moment that the proposals currently on the table - including the Mitchell Commission report - are also part of an ‘old same thing’, what fresh alternatives are available, feasible and credible? As the process for peace unravels with serious ease, and as obduracy and arrogance take hold, is there any possibility of devolving a different scheme?

I have repeated on many occasions that the eleven-month Intifada is a Palestinian decolonisation process. It is a war between two peoples rather than between two armies. It therefore follows that any decisions undertaken to cease all the violence and move forward in the process must not only include the political and military establishments but also the people. Otherwise put, it should also include representatives from both communities. The ordinary people - Palestinians and Israelis alike - must be made to feel they have an investment in the decisions that impact their own futures. Therefore, why not involve the peoples of both communities in this process? Let me suggest a structure that borrows its creative foundation from the writings of eminent International lawyers such as Professors Andrew Strauss and Robin Mead and calls upon the jurisprudence available in the Orartu case.

I propose taking the jury system as a frame of reference, and drawing upon the demography of this small parcel of land, in order to have the leadership from both communities choose [say] seven citizen committees. Each committee will consist of typical Palestinians and Israelis chosen in accordance with a mutually agreed and representative formula. Each of those committees, led by a facilitator trained in the principles of conflict resolution, would be instructed to develop a workable plan on those issues that constitute the conflict. The meetings of the committees would be televised so that both communities would become engaged in the process. Once the mutual recriminations are over and done with, the hope is that some progress could begin to be made. This format is not too removed from the beginnings of the Oslo meetings, but involves more people and at a higher public level.

If the committees were successful in proposing some terms of reference, the consolidation of those proposals would then be left to the politicians. And although the authorities on either side would not be compelled to accept those proposals, the mere fact that they enjoy a popular base would give the political leadership adequate cover for difficult concessions. Conversely, they would also make it more arduous for the extreme fringes to spurn or undermine those proposals, and would counter the argument that the political leaders are chary of being upstaged by their own peoples.

Mind you, I acknowledge freely that this suggestion might appear clumsy or arbitrary in some ways. But what I am proposing is merely a concept - or even a paradigm - which is grounded in a vision. It is up to the experts in the field to flesh out the methodology and rules. However, this approach has been used on different scales and levels in conflict resolution in the past. It could thus become a powerful tool if it manages to connect the personal with the diplomatic, and then begins a healing process at the level of the individual citizens that will lead toward reconciliation. Indeed, one challenge within the Israeli-Palestinian axis is to encourage the silent members of society to overcome their cynicism and participate directly in what has been considered the exclusive realm of seasoned and professional politicians. This process might eventually strengthen democracy.

But it is also obvious that the success of this approach as one way of tackling the conflict is far from certain. To be truthful, and given the intractable nature of the core issues as much as the asymmetry between the two parties, it is perhaps wise to predict that this process imports with it a high rate of failure. After all, people-to-people initiatives - the lucrative industry of the last decade - were also predicated on those same variables. Yet, they failed to introduce any credible breakthroughs. But is it possible that a people-centred approach, that goes hand-in-hand with the diplomatic and international efforts being deployed to defuse the tensions, might help draw the parties closer together?

What is the genuine alternative? More bloodshed between one entity that refuses to give the other party its legitimate rights, and another entity that has not yet succeeded in claiming those rights? At this stage, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems to be prolonging the sacrifices of both peoples and thereby making stones of the hearts of Israelis and Palestinians alike. Alas, the face of Jerusalem – with its synagogues, churches and mosques - is still being torn asunder by pain and suffering …

I am grateful to Mr Mark Gallimore, a long-standing legal associate, for editing this article

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2001   |   19 August


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