image of jerusalem 2013

A Map without a Road?
The Christian will engage with passion in the world of our society and politics out of a real hunger and thirst to see God’s image, and out of a real grief and fear of what the human future will be if this does not come to light. - The Most Revd Dr Rowan Douglas Williams - Archbishop of Canterbury - 27 February 2003

2 April   |   2003   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

Yet another war is being fought out in one of the indisputable cradles of civilisation! The world watches with fear and trepidation an episode that could well remove a tyrant from power and make the world a somewhat safer globe or else haunt everyone with its after-effects for many years to come. And as I follow the course of this war in Iraq, I recall a statement by Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, that ‘wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows’. But today, I would like to re-focus on what many commentators describe essentially as the ‘heart of the conflict in the Middle East’.

Indeed, I remain convinced that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict represents the skeleton key for peace in the whole Middle Eastern region. Everybody has said this at least once! Only as far back as 21 February2003 , His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia, repeated that ‘the occupation of Palestinian-claimed land by Israel is the cause of the violence in that area. Being with the Palestinians is being with justice.’ A week later, on 27 February2003 , HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan and Cherif M Bassiouni, Professor of Law at the DePaul Catholic University in Chicago, issued a joint statement entitled ‘Iraq Today and Dominos Falling Sequentially Tomorrow’. The statement confirmed boldly that ‘the impending Iraq war has overshadowed the tragic Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Yet, when all is said and done about the many issues involving the Middle East, there is nothing more fundamental nor more compelling than the need to address the Palestinian-Israeli dispute’. The statement further lamented that ‘the leadership on both sides [Palestinian and Israeli] seems unable to extricate itself from this situation, and the United States, which is the only power that has the capacity to put an end to it, seems to have abdicated, at least temporarily, that role’.

But physical violence by both sides apart, what else is happening within the Palestinian disjointed lands today?

Terje Roed-Larsen is Senior United Nations Envoy for the Middle East / Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. On 5 March2003 , he highlighted some reports from World Bank and World Food Programme sources that are impacting Palestinians and Israelis today - since what happens to one people inevitably also overwhelms the other:

  • During the last thirty months,2 ,501 Palestinians and 724 Israelis were killed by the ongoing violence;
  • During twenty-seven months of closure, where2 . 5million Palestinians in the West Bank and 1 million Gaza residents have been confined by Israel to their towns and villages, the gross national product in the Palestinian Authority declined by $5. 4billion - the equivalent of one year’s income to Palestinians;
  • 60% of Palestinians now live under the poverty line of $ 2a day, the number having tripled from637 , 000in September 2000to nearly 2 million today;
  • Half the workers in the Palestinian private sector have lost their livelihoods;
  • The debt of the Palestinian Authority to suppliers stands now at $ 370million;
  • Food consumption per capita has dropped by30 %;
  • UNRWA and the World Food Programme were forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on storage because of delays in security checks at Israeli ports and checkpoints. Delays can last as long as forty days;
  • Domestic violence is growing at an alarming rate in the West Bank and Gaza, and so are school dropouts;
  • On 19 February2003 , His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, issued an SOS appeal. He said that the eight-metre high security wall being built by Israel around Palestinian territories will isolate the city of Bethlehem from Jerusalem and result in the encirclement of sixty Christian families living near Rachel’s Tomb. He added that this wall is further forcing Palestinian Christians toward emigration.

So where does all this leave Palestinians today? And where does it also leave the conflict between two peoples who are bloodied, battered and traumatised almost beyond repair by the violence they have been inflicting upon each other?

Despite the inveterate pessimism prevalent in the region today, all hope may not be lost irretrievably! One political alternative to further bloodshed and violence at the moment is the ‘roadmap’. This is a plan that was drawn up by the diplomatic Quartet of the United Nations, European Union, Russia and the United States to achieve a two-state solution with the establishment of a Palestinian state within three years. Going beyond the roadmap, the statement by HRH Prince Hassan and Cherif Bassiouni called upon the United States to reconvene the Madrid Conference, or a Madrid-like conference, in order to address in a multilateral regional context all outstanding issues. Focusing its fulcrum on ‘anthropolitics’, the statement carried the timely suggestion that ‘the states of the region must be encouraged to solve their own problems and manage their own crises by coming to the table rather than remaining on the menu’.

Overall, this holistic plan unfurled the following proposals:

  • Settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict
  • Peace between Israel and Syria, and Israel and Lebanon
  • Setting in motion mechanisms to establish a regional security regime and the elimination of WMD
  • Enhancement of security co-operation for the prevention and control of ‘terrorism’
  • Development of mechanisms to eliminate anti-Jewish, anti-Israeli, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim materials from public education and the media
  • Establishment of regional institutions for cooperation in the sharing of natural resources and their conservation, particularly water, as well as enhancement of economic development
  • Establishment of a centralised institution to deal with issues of conflict management and resolution.

Ambitious proposals indeed! But are they realistic today in the midst of a dense and unrelenting conflict?

Settlements are one of the most poignant manifestations of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today. Settlements denote land, space, contiguity, access, sovereignty, occupation and dignity. Yet today, Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands are not only illegal according to International law, they are also one of the most fundamental impediments to future peace.

When Likud came to power in1977, the government began constructing Jewish villages and cities all over Palestinian territories. PM Ariel Sharon, then Minister of Agriculture, engineered a settlement plan with financial incentives that made the territories an attractive home for Israelis who did not feel strongly about the political ideology that drove the settlement project. The settlements grew rapidly, and there are now well over 400,000 Israelis living outside the pre- 1967borders of Israel - at least 200,000 in East Jerusalem and another 200,000 deeper in the West Bank and Gaza.

In her article entitled ‘The Unsettlers’ in the New York Times on 16 February 2003, Samantha Shapiro takes as her example the Jewish outpost at Ramat Gilad. She affirms that the distaste for occupation ‘is still shared by a majority of Israelis, as expressed in opinion poll after opinion poll. Indeed, one recent poll found that78 % of Israelis would be willing to give up the vast majority of settlements in order to strike a peace agreement with the Palestinians’.

Shapiro adds, ‘But despite those polls, and despite international laws prohibiting settlement in occupied territories, Jewish settlement in the West Bank has expanded continually since the land was captured in the 1967 war’. And the more those settlements and outposts expand, the greater the Palestinian fear, and the larger the ambit of the conflict. Dr Mustafa Barghouti, President of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees, encapsulates Palestinian fears by describing Jewish outposts on Palestinian land as ‘monsters opening their mouths very wide to eat us.’

But the building of settlements is not the only fearsome obstacle. In an article in Le Monde Diplomatique in February2003 , the correspondent for the Israeli Ha’aretz daily Amira Hass writes that the repugnant idea of the ‘transfer’ of the Palestinians - meaning their total expulsion - now appeals to many Israelis. Hass claims that the Israeli army and some settlers are already organising ‘mini-transfers’ in the West Bank, and any serious new threat to Israel (for example, in case of missile attacks from Iraq) could precipitate the brutally enforced expulsion of millions. She adds that some73 % of those who live in the Jewish settlements, euphemistically known as development towns (akin to France’s former villes nouvelles) believe that Israel should encourage its population to leave their homelands. This rises to76 % among Jews from the former Soviet Union and to87 % among religious Jews. But it seems that some right-wingers would go even further. They see a link between ‘transfer’ and the Palestinian Intifada. Effi Eitam, who heads the National Religious Party (ha-Mafdal), would like to see Israel exert sovereignty over all territories between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. In his view, a Palestinian state would then be established in Jordan and the Sinai instead.

The whole Middle East stands at another critical crossroads today. The Arab masses are seething with a sense of reborn nationalist anger against what they perceive as multiple injustices or biases against them. Yet, many of the Arab regimes are still speaking with dissonant voices. Moreover, the American [and Israeli] positions remind me of one of Cicero’s more famous political dictums! Taken from Atreus, a play by the Roman tragic poet Lucius Accius, the motto ‘oderint dum metuant’ denotes ‘let them hate so long as they fear’. Surely, a single-handed policy of fear through force that keeps the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in deep political stasis cannot sustain itself for much longer without serious backlash.

To my mind, the ‘roadmap’ remains today the most viable document for resolving a conflict that has drained the Middle East of life, land, hope and prosperity for far too long. But it needs to be unpacked in a determined, consistent and honest manner. If only the Americans would finally find the road that renders this map a viable tool of reference!

Action is the proper fruit of knowledge! - Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs, Dr Thomas Fuller,1732

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2003   |   2 April


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