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Only gloom, or also doom? - The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Palestinian Christians are dying to LIVE with dignity and freedom - 'A Call from Jerusalem to the World'

12 April   |   2005   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

This was the sub-title of a recent joint letter from the Latin-rite Roman Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran heads of churches in Jerusalem. It appealed urgently for practical help with schools, emigration, housing and social institutions. Reminding the worldwide Christian fellowship of the decline of indigenous Christians in the Holy Land, it denounced violence and re-iterated the commitment of the three signatories 'to a non-violent struggle for peace, justice and reconciliation'. It referred to some tentative positive [political] signs, but enumerated nonetheless the various issues that bedevil this small parcel of biblical land today - including the separation wall that 'splinters our community in many pieces and makes it impossible to maintain normal family, economic and human relations'. It then called for a two-state solution with Jerusalem that is a capital for both peoples and a city of peace shared by Jews, Christians and Muslims.

The letter from Jerusalem coincided with an Open Letter on the Status of Jerusalem by the World Council of Churches. Its Commission on International Affairs warned that world attention is drawn to Gaza whilst Israel flouts International law as it intensifies its unilateral programmes to consolidate control over Jerusalem and the West Bank with the creation of a de facto border as a result of the wall, the disjointing of Jerusalem through further housing units and settlements, the threat to absentee property law by allowing confiscation of Palestinian property in Jerusalem and the new putative regulation that would require permits for Jerusalemite residents entering the West Bank.

The political concerns raised in both those ecumenical letters were also echoed in the findings of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The UN 2004 Report found that around half of the Palestinian population was living below the official poverty indicator [of $2.10], that unemployment had increased and that 'Palestinians continued to face problems reaching their places of work, schools and hospitals, and standards of health and education continued to deteriorate' and that 'even if rapid progress is made on the political front, unless this is translated into improvements in access, emergency humanitarian assistance continues to remain necessary'.

Notwithstanding those concerns, Israel still gave its go-ahead last month for the construction of 3,500 new housing units in E-1, a corridor connecting Jerusalem to the West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim . For the past 37 years of occupation, Israel has unfailingly invoked "security" as a justification for building well over 200 settlements and outposts on Palestinian land, and later linking them with Israeli-only motorways. It has done so to rid itself of well over 3.5 million Palestinians whilst at the same time keeping as much of their land as possible. This latest E-1 plan further accentuated Israel's policy of no to demography, yes to geography . It would cut the West Bank in half, allowing Israel to control Palestinian movement and insulate Jerusalem from the West Bank. With the combination of the separation wall and settlement-expansion, Palestinians now sadly configure no better than a cantonal state with no meaningful sovereignty, no viable territory, no coherent border controls, no freedom of movement, no access to their water resources or airspace, and no capital in east Jerusalem. They have been cornered by an Israel that has relied upon American 'assurances', the lamentable absence of the EU from the political field, and an impressive level of chutzpah and regional overconfidence.

As Jeff Halper, Coordinator of ICAHD, wrote recently, this latest E-1 decision could well and truly seal the fate of a future Palestinian state. Indeed, and in the process, it could also rip up the whole jurisprudence of thought about the contiguity of a future Palestine. Alas, even the maps at Oslo and later at Sharm el-Sheikh, let alone the Quartet-endorsed Road Map or the unofficial Israeli-Palestinian Geneva Initiative, offered more comparative 'viability' for a an eventual Palestinian state. Now, it is alarmingly clear that Palestinians are coming close to being 'offered' a 21st-century model of a Bantustan . This is a perilous tactical choice that will prove to be a major strategic error. Although think tanks or analysts such as the American Enterprise Institute and Michael Scott Doran (Foreign Affairs, 16 March 2005) have argued that Palestine is no longer the pivot of the Middle East and does not provide the fulcrum for its future overall stability, I believe that force-feeding Palestinians with a flawed 'formula' could possibly work in the short-term but would doubtless backfire in the long-term. Middle Eastern greater initiatives for peace, democracy and economic growth meant to transform the region cannot succeed if they are forced upon a people without their consent. This applies for Palestine as much as it does for other countries. Change is dreadfully necessary in the whole region, and resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would unmask the ludicrous claim by Arab leaders that they cannot proceed with internal reforms without first securing a resolution to the conflict. Anyone who thinks otherwise, or hopes that Palestinians can persevere forever in their Sisyphus-like efforts, is naïvely academic and woefully ignorant of the harsh realities of the region.

And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honoured, all the members rejoice with it - I Cor 12:26

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2005   |   12 April


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