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Whistling in the Wind?
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: may those who love you be secure!

29 August   |   2003   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels. - ( Ps 122:6-7)

Last week, I watched Shlomo Ben Ami, former Israeli Foreign Minister during the Barak government, being interviewed by Tim Sebastian on the BBC World Hard Talk programme. This week, I also watched Daniel Ayalon, Israeli Ambassador in the USA, briefing journalists as part of The Israel Project on the C-Span 2 channel. Both men - one more of an intellectual, the other more of a politician - have been involved in varying degrees and stages with the [now defunct] Oslo process.

Their respective 'takes' on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were as clear as they were contradictory. Whilst Ben Ami deplored the unrelenting waves of bloody violence between the two peoples, he also stated that the situation cannot improve so long as Israel persisted in its policies of settlement-building, closure of Palestinian territories, and the building of the 'separation wall' along an unofficial and arbitrary demarcation line between Israel and Palestine. He contended that the solution lay simply in the unhindered creation of a sovereign and viable Palestinian state along the 1967 borders. However, he admitted that he was in the minority amongst Israeli politicians in advocating this view, and described his efforts almost as a 'cry in the wilderness'.

Conversely, Ayalon contended that Israel was genuinely interested in the welfare of the Palestinian people, and has not only accepted the 'roadmap for peace' but also the notion of a future independent Palestinian state so long as Palestinians stopped their terrorism and the Palestinian Authority dismantled the terrorist infrastructures within their territories. He breezed aside the issue of past UN Resolutions {including S/RES/465 (1980) calling for a total halt on settlement building}, as well as the erection of the 'separation wall' (which he deemed as temporary), or even the Palestinian casualties that went hand-in-hand with the Israeli casualties during the mayhem that has traumatised both peoples throughout the second Al-Aqsa Intifada.

Then, on 26 August 2003, the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem (comprising the traditional Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical Churches of the Holy Land) issued a joint statement regarding the 'separation wall'. Affirming their 'determination to do all in [their] power to work for Peace in this Holy Land', and their 'abhorrence of violence, whoever the perpetrator', they added that 'peace will only be established when all violence is eradicated from both sides'. Focusing on the present roadmap for peace, they stressed also that 'the Separation Wall constitutes a grave obstacle. For both nations, the Wall will result in a feeling of isolation. Moreover, for many Palestinians, it means the deprivation of land, livelihood, statehood and family life. They stated unequivocally that 'occupation remains the root cause of the conflict and the continuing suffering in the Holy Land'.

The Heads of Churches then turned their attention to the immediate impact of the 'separation wall' on their own local Christian communities in the Holy Land. They underlined that the consequences of such a wall 'will be devastating to the Christian community, not least the psychological impact on daily life. The community will be isolated following the deprivation of access to land and freedom of movement. Visits of pilgrims will be further discouraged'. They concluded their joint statement with a faith-centred and oft-repeated appeal 'to remove this impediment to a comprehensive and lasting Peace'.

As the life-or-death dynamics of this conflict continue to bounce off the political walls of Jerusalem, Ramallah, Brussels, Moscow or Washington DC, I wonder at times whether they would ever engage the aspirations of all peace-seeking peoples. I have often written that violence - the bloody murder of men, women and children on both sides - is not the solution. I have also stated that illegal settlements, let alone hermetic closures, expropriations, house demolitions and artificial barriers, are not the answer either! The straightforward problem lies in the invasive illegality of the occupation by Israel of Palestinian land.

To achieve this goal of establishing a durable peace, it is not enough to make stentorian promises alone! Nor is it enough to export compelling processes and irenic roadmaps that proclaim the lofty but surreal aim of two states living side-by-side! Such 'groundbreaking' initiatives would remain flawed (or stillborn, as Ben Ami described them) since they refer merely to an overarching end-goal without also defining the ultimate shape and format of that goal! Simply put, the Quartet - or perhaps the USA - needs to sketch the final parameters of the Palestinian state, its geographical scope and inherent rights. If this were unambiguously 'sold' to both parties mutatis mutandis, Palestinians and Israelis could then adopt a series of confidence-building measures and harness their own public opinions behind the concrete albeit painful compromises necessary to resolve this disobedient conflict. Otherwise, suggesting proposals with visionary words but incomplete realities would cheat Palestinians and Israelis alike of any real, non-violent and lasting peace. So will we at long last stop whistling in the wind?

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2003   |   29 August


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