1997 General Assembly

Key Points from 1997 Policy Paper Adopted by GA (this is the policy paper the Middle East Study Group Report of 2010 seeks to replace)

Concerning the Peace Process

  1. Reaffirm the actions of the 208th General Assembly (1996) concerning the peace process.
  2. Commend the United States government on its active role in implementing a negotiated agreement on Hebron, and urge the U.S. government to continue a proactive role in moving the peace process forward, giving particular attention to Israeli security concerns, the status of Palestinian refugees and political prisoners, and the call for a just resolution of the final status of Jerusalem.
  3. Call upon the United States to take effective measures, including withholding aid and joining in efforts of the United Nations Security Council, to oppose expansion of Israeli settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, and in the Jerusalem area, where unilateral action, without negotiations, exacerbates national and religious tensions, and runs the risk of generating violent confrontation.

Concerning Foreign Aid

Foreign assistance has an important but limited role to play in several countries of the Middle East. Aid cannot make up for unfairly structured or incompetently run economies; it cannot permanently compensate for high unemployment, misallocated resources, or the distortions created by unbounded greed. But aid can shorten the waiting time for the benefits of a well-conceived development strategy. That should be the goal of U.S. foreign assistance.

Unfortunately, that has been neither the result nor the intent of U.S. aid to the Middle East. Practically all aid to the region for years has gone to Israel and Egypt–who between them account for over 40 percent of the entire American foreign assistance budget for the whole world. 24 That is far more motivated by strategic and military considerations and by U.S. domestic political realities than by any rational assessment of need or opportunity.

Dramatic increases in the U.S. foreign assistance budget are unlikely in the context of a Congress and administration focused on eliminating the budget deficit. The pressing need in many countries of the Middle East for outside help will probably be met only by reallocating some of the funds now going to Israel and Egypt. Support should certainly be channeled through individual governments committed to development that affects positively the broad base of the population. But support can also be used to encourage joint projects by two or more countries, thereby creating additional incentives to maintain peace.

Recommendations

The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) recommends that the 209th General Assembly (1997) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) do the following:

Concerning the Peace Process

  1. Reaffirm the actions of the 208th General Assembly (1996) concerning the peace process.
  2. Commend the United States government on its active role in implementing a negotiated agreement on Hebron, and urge the U.S. government to continue a proactive role in moving the peace process forward, giving particular attention to Israeli security concerns, the status of Palestinian refugees and political prisoners, and the call for a just resolution of the final status of Jerusalem.
  3. Call upon the United States to take effective measures, including withholding aid and joining in efforts of the United Nations Security Council, to oppose expansion of Israeli settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, and in the Jerusalem area, where unilateral action, without negotiations, exacerbates national and religious tensions, and runs the risk of generating violent confrontation.

Concerning Economic Issues

  1. Urge the United States government, other governments, the United Nations, international development agencies and financial institutions, and private entities, to cooperate fully in building more productive, sustainable, self-reliant, and socially equitable agricultural systems throughout the Middle East.
  2. Call upon the United States government, other governments, and international institutions to seek enlargement of nonpetroleum trade with countries of the Middle East in ways that will encourage sustainable economic development, favors the interests of poor people, and protects workers’ rights and well-being.
  3. Call for a redistribution of a portion of the economic assistance presently going to Israel and Egypt in order to support the peace process. As part of the process of promoting peace in the region, more United States’ aid should be made available to the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, as well as to regional development projects that serve to strengthen economic ties between the states of the region, particularly between Israel and its neighboring Arab states and peoples.
  4. Ask the United States to support efforts to speed up delivery of urgently needed economic development assistance in the West Bank and Gaza.
  5. Call upon the United States government to support a continued easing of economic sanctions against Iraq in a manner that does not support Iraq’s ability to make acts of aggression toward its neighbors.
  6. Call upon the United Nations to remove all economic sanctions imposed upon Iraq when the United Nations has ascertained that Iraq has complied with the requirements regarding the destruction of weapons and the capacity to produce them.
  7. Ask the United States government, and other governments, to exercise caution from unilaterally imposing economic sanctions, and urge that, if economic sanctions are undertaken by the international community in an attempt to force Middle Eastern or other governments into making policy changes, care must be taken not to allow the results to put at risk the lives or well-being of the general populace.

Recommendations for Action by Presbyterians

Painfully aware that the conflicts in the Middle East have exacted a terrible toll in human suffering and exacerbated international and interreligious tensions for more than half a century, and taking account of both the accomplishments so far and the challenges ahead, the 209th General Assembly (1997) believe that the peace process started in Madrid and cosponsored by the United States still holds the promise of achieving a comprehensive and lasting peace, and that the United States needs to continue to play an active role of mediating peace and, in some instances, to take initiatives for reconciliation and restoration of relationships with countries with whom there continue to be barriers of hostility and alienation. Therefore, the 209th General Assembly (1997) urge Presbyterians (individual members, sessions, presbyteries, synods) to

  1. continue to study the issues, and pray for what makes for a lasting peace in the region;
  2. work on building support for these recommendations within their communities, with other Presbyterians, with members of local congregations of other Christian communions, and with local and regional ecumenical agencies;
  3. approach Jewish and Muslim leaders in their communities to develop interreligious dialogue and public cooperation for peace in the Middle East;
  4. utilize the study materials available from the Office on Interfaith Relations (Worldwide Ministries Division), Washington Office (National Ministries Division), Presbyterian Peacemaking Pro-gram (Congregational Ministries Division), and those produced by the U.S. Interreligious Committee for Peace in the Middle East, in order to develop a deeper understanding of the issues and challenges of the region.

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