221st General Assembly
On Supporting Middle East Peacemaking—From the Presbytery of New Covenant.
The Presbytery of New Covenant overtures the 221st General Assembly (2014) to:
Declare its commitment to a negotiated two-state solution (two states for two peoples) in which a secure and universally recognized State of Israel lives alongside a free, viable, and secure state for the Palestinian people.
Reject any proposed divestment and economic sanctions against the state of Israel or any application of the P.C.(USA)’s corporate engagement policies toward such ends.
Call for all Presbyteries and congregations within the P.C.(USA) to include interfaith dialogue and relationship-building as part of their own engagement in working for a just peace.
Call for all foreign aid given by the U.S. government – including aid to Israel and the Palestinian Authority – to be comprehensively and transparently accounted to the American people and held to the same standards of compliance with all applicable laws.Call for church advocacy for foreign-aid accountability to be directed toward its universal adherence rather than targeted for selective application to some recipients and not others.
Encourage Presbyterians to travel to the Holy Land, and give broad support to the Christian communities throughout the Middle East.
Affirm the importance of economic measures and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians which support and advance a negotiated two-state solution. To that end, the 221st General Assembly does not endorse boycotts of Israeli or Palestinian products.
Urge all church institutions to give careful consideration to possible investments in Israel-Palestine that advance peace and improve the lives of Palestinians and Israelis.
Two States for Two Peoples
The two-state solution remains the best path to sustainable peace, but requires a renewed commitment to peacemaking by Israelis, Palestinians, and the international community. The Presbyterian community can help this renewed effort by continued advocacy of our core peacemaking principles: that the rights and aspirations of both Palestinians and Israelis be respected, that both parties have legitimate grievances, and that both parties have obligations that must be met for the peace process to move forward.
For Israel, there is no military solution to the conflict. Without progress toward a two-state solution, the violence may subside for periods of time but will inevitably return. The security concerns of Israel are legitimate, proven by hostile actions by its neighbors, and Israel’s security must be assured. At the same time, Israeli actions that constrain the ability of Palestinians to build a peaceful and free society hinder the cause of a democratic Jewish homeland. Unilateral actions by the parties are counterproductive. In 2012, the unilateral move by the Palestinian Authority for U.N. recognition, in violation of previous peace agreements between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, was met with another Israeli announcement of West Bank settlement expansion that many in the international community contend hinders the creation of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state. Israel also suspended tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority, redirecting taxes collected to cover unpaid electric power obligations of the PA. Both parties need to return to bilateral negotiations, as a better path to peace.
For Palestinians to become effective negotiators representing their majority view and interests, they need to resolve internal political divisions within Palestinian society. While polling shows most Palestinians support peaceful coexistence and the two-state solution, powerful Palestinian factions, most notably Hamas, remain openly committed to violence and the destruction of Israel. The 2012 launching of rockets and missiles from Gaza at Israeli homes and schools set back the cause of a Palestinian state, and innocent Palestinians ended up suffering from the response as rockets were launched from the midst of densely populated civilian areas in Gaza. We hear endlessly within our church about the need to “end the occupation.” However, if Israelis believe the West Bank could become another launching pad for rocket attacks in the manner Gaza has, they will, understandably, not end their military presence in the West Bank. Until the rocket attacks and other violence end permanently, and Palestinians as a people come together and abandon the idea of destroying Israel, there can be no free and independent Palestinian state.
The path to a two-state peace may be long and rough, but as long as there are ordinary Israelis and Palestinians of good will who yearn for peace, and there are many, their hopes and aspirations must not be abandoned. Hamas and other violent factions are barriers to peace. It should not be forgotten, however, that over the last several years the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has made important progress in discouraging violence, establishing the rule of law, and improving the lives of ordinary Palestinians. There have been no rockets launched at Israel from the West Bank, and 95% of West Bank Palestinians are subject to Palestinian police and security, not Israeli.
A statement we often hear is that “the window for peace is about to close” and “urgent action is needed.” The truth is that there are no fast solutions to these kinds of protracted challenges. Negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli leaders are “frozen” because neither side yet has a powerful enough consensus from their people to negotiate a final and definitive peace agreement. Such a consensus is built one person at a time.
Our role, as a church, should be to support grassroots dialogue and bridge-building toward that end, especially with young Palestinians and Israelis, and support positive economic cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli business enterprises. When such social and economic efforts are successful, both Palestinian and Israeli leaders are more empowered to take the risks necessary to achieve sustainable peace.
Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) efforts that target Israel are fundamentally unjust, do not advance peace, and should not be supported.
The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) effort is a coordinated international movement targeting Israel. Most of the world sees the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the conflict it is. Many BDS advocates try to frame the problem as one that is caused by the “occupation”, with one party (Israel) oppressing another (the Palestinians). Many BDS advocates refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of Israeli security concerns. To the Palestinian leaders of the BDS movement, all of Israel is considered “occupied Palestinian territory”. By their own statements, the prospect of a two-state solution that recognizes Israel’s right to peace and security along with the Palestinian right to freedom and self-determination is not what they really want. For them, only a “one-state” of Palestine will satisfy their long-range goals. Long-standing PC(USA) policy supports a two-state solution, making support of the international BDS movement incompatible and counter-productive.
When BDS activists claim that they only want Israel to end the occupation of the disputed territories, many are disguising their long-range objectives. When Israel voluntarily ended the occupation of Southern Lebanon, Hezbollah took over and now has over 50,000 rockets aimed at Israeli cities. Hezbollah openly calls for the complete destruction of Israel. Israel unilaterally ended the occupation of the Gaza Strip. Hamas now controls Gaza, and openly calls for the annihilation of Israel. If Israel were to unilaterally pull out of the West Bank area before a negotiated settlement is achieved as the result of political and economic pressure from the international BDS movement, it is likely that armed groups like Hamas would take over the West Bank just as they took over Gaza and put millions of innocent lives at risk.
In recent years the BDS movement, in a coordinated effort, solicited all four of the mainline Christian denominations to join the BDS movements efforts to divest from specific U.S. companies that do business with Israel. These efforts were rejected by all four denominations.
The Lutherans refused to join the BDS effort, explicitly stating at their Churchwide Assembly that they would not go down the divestment path. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church has come out against divestment and in favor of positive investment. The United Methodist Church’s pension board concluded that the three companies targeted for divestment by the BDS movement (Hewlett Packard, Caterpillar, and Motorola Solutions) have positive human rights records and codes of conduct and that divesting from them would render the church unable to raise any concerns that might arise in the future. The Methodist’s General Conference agreed, overwhelming rejecting divestment by a two-to-one margin. The 220th Presbyterian GA rejected divestment, as did three consecutive general assemblies before it who refused to approve BDS overtures sent to them. The most recent head of the National Council of Churches also opposed BDS.
Fair and consistent treatment of foreign aid recipients
Fair, consistent, and unbiased treatment implies that the human rights record of Israel should be judged alongside the human rights records of the Palestinian group Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian Authority (PA), which governs the West Bank (The United States provides direct aid to the PA, and indirect aid to Hamas-governed Gaza through the U.N.).
In 2012 the widely respected organization Human Rights Watch issued a comprehensive report on the extent of human rights violations by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The report documented a pervasive practice of beatings, torture, and executions by firing squad without fair trial. The Charter of Hamas calls for the destruction of Israel and claims that Muslims have a religious obligation to kill Jews. Hamas openly describes the intentional killing of Israeli civilians as a legitimate tactic of “resistance”. Since Israel unilaterally ended the occupation of Gaza in 2005, thousands of rockets have been launched from Gaza at Israeli homes and schools.
In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority has made important strides establishing the rule of law, discouraging violence, and advancing the welfare of ordinary Palestinians. Nonetheless, Palestinians have been arrested for nothing more than criticizing PA leadership. In 2012, A Palestinian man in the West Bank, Muhammad Abu Shahala, was sentenced to death for selling land to a Jew, a capital crime under Palestinian Authority laws, and a clear violation of human right.
Human rights must be a priority. A peaceful and secure Middle East is an equally important priority. Decisions balancing these essential priorities must be made thoughtfully and carefully, and, unfortunately, are not simple and easy. The faith community can play an important and constructive role, but only if all people of good will work together.
A Model for Peacemaking
Many thought that the violent confrontation between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland would never end peacefully. It did—with the help of the PCUSA. Rather than picking a side, PCUSA peacemakers sent to Northern Ireland became trusted intermediaries able to work with both sides of the battle. Our peacemakers were quick to condemn injustice perpetrated by either side and equally quick to affirm the aspirations for peace that existed in the hearts of people on both sides.
This model for peacemaking not only is effective. It is consistent with Biblical commands that we work for justice. This overture moves the PCUSA in the direction of the Northern Ireland model and away from a model that is transparently partisan for one side in the Israel-Palestine tragedy.
The 220th Presbyterian General Assembly (GA) reaffirmed and reinforced the decades-long Presbyterian commitment to peacemaking in the Middle East. Despite an intense and well-funded lobbying campaign by BDS advocates from both within and outside the PC(USA), the GA rejected a recurring proposal to divest from 3 companies doing business with Israel: Caterpillar Tractor, Hewlett Packard, and Motorola Solutions. Sadly, BDS advocates within our denomination, affiliated with the global Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement, seem unwilling to accept the fact that our church has time after time chosen a different path toward advancing peace.
Instead of divestment, the 220th GA called for positive investment in peace. GA commissioners wisely chose to stay the course embraced by the PCUSA consistently for decades: to engage in dialogue and cooperation with all people of good will, to act as peacemakers and not parties to the conflict, and to invest in peaceful endeavors of both an economic and social character. This coincided with recent actions by the Lutherans, Methodists, and Episcopalians all soundly rejecting divestment and embracing positive investment for peace.
In 2010 close to 35,000 West Bank Palestinians were employed by Israeli companies with operations in the West Bank, supporting more than 200,000 Palestinians financially (Ha`aretz December 2010). In a landmark agreement, the Histadrut (Israeli Trade Union Council) and the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) signed an agreement in August 2008 to base future relations on negotiation, dialogue and joint initiatives to advance “fraternity and co-existence” ( Israeli and Palestinian trade unions cooperate ). An example of this cooperation was evident in October 2007 when the Histadrut successfully petitioned Israel’s High Court of Justice for Israeli labour law to be applied in the occupied territories, something that was previously denied. Nine judges ruled that Palestinians working for Israeli employers in West Bank settlements should be given the same work benefits provided by Israeli law. The ruling set an important precedent that benefits thousands of Palestinians working for Israelis and Israeli companies throughout the West Bank. Palestinians who work for Israeli companies earn twice as much on average as those who work in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority. For many, the difference in wages is even higher ( Your Middle East, 2012 ).
SodaStream is an example of an Israeli company targeted by the BDS movement. Sodastream has operations in the Maaleh Adumim settlement block adjacent to Jerusalem, which is widely expected by both Palestinians and Israelis to be part of Israel proper once final borders (with fair and sensible land swaps) between Israel and Palestine are established. Sodastream’s settlement operations are an example of successful coexistence with its 160 West Bank employees and Israeli Jews, Christians, Russians, Ethiopians, and Bedouin. The company celebrates the holidays of all and fosters cultural exchange. When BDS activists pressured a Swiss company to sever ties with SodaStream, the company reestablished its business ties after doing its own investigation of SodaStream policies.
According to a study conducted by Israeli researcher Issa Smeirat as part of his M.A Degree, over 16,000 Palestinians from the West Bank have established businesses and firms inside Israel and its settlements. This includes establishing several factories and companies, many of which have numerous branches ( Ha’aretz, Nov. 22, 2011 ).
A good case in point is the Atarot industrial zone adjacent to Jerusalem. Before 2001, over 200 companies were located in the zone. About 40 of them were Arab-owned, and two-thirds of the 4,000 employees were East Jerusalem or Palestinian Arabs. Today, even the Palestinian Authority does not describe the Atarot industrial park as an “illegal settlement” because Palestinians have over $500 million of investments in the area, including the print headquarters for the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds, according to Abdul Hafiz Nofal, the undersecretary of the PA’s Ministry of National Economy ( Israel National News, October 27, 2010 ).
Economic development and Palestinian-Israeli cooperation in the West Bank is an essential foundation for peace. Efforts are already underway at the grassroots level and can be furthered by political leaders engaged in ongoing dialogue. This past May 300 Palestinian and Israeli business leaders met at the World Economic Forum meeting in Jordan and formed a new initiative called Breaking the Impasse (BTI). The goals of BTI are twofold: to press Palestinian and Israeli political leaders to move forward on the two-state solution, two states for two peoples, and to advance commerce that will benefit both parties and bolster the peace process.
The Israeli-Palestinian Chamber of Commerce is focused on the same objective of economic growth and cooperation. In 2012, two-way trade between Israel and Palestinian-governed areas totaled $4.3 billion. While the majority of this trade was the purchase of Israeli products by Palestinians, $816 million was spent by Israelis on Palestinian-produced goods and products. Palestinian sales to Israel were up 18% from the prior year and moving in the right direction. In addition to the economic benefit, this commerce creates more opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to simply know each other and relate on a person-to-person basis.
Israel can speed economic development in the West Bank by providing increased freedom of movement and permitting development of needed infrastructure. Many security checkpoints have been closed as violence in the West Bank has subsided, but more can still be done. Better roads in Israeli-administered areas of the West Bank are needed to efficiently link Palestinian population centers. An example of this the new Palestinian city of Rawabi, currently under construction, which needs a good road connecting to Ramallah that must pass through Israeli administered territory. Israeli approval for this road has yet to be finalized, and should be a high priority topic in the peace negotiations.
Presbytery of Santa Barbara additional rationale
This overture calls on Presbyterians to act as peacemakers in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a conflict that has gone on too long, must end, and will end when people of good will in Israel and Palestine prevail. The overture recognizes the necessity of foundation building for peace through grassroots collaboration, person-to-person contact, mutual respect, and cooperation. It calls on Presbyterians to be active and constructive participants in these efforts, as growing numbers of ordinary Israelis and Palestinians demand the peaceful future they deserve.
The overture also calls on the GA to make clear that the PC(USA) is not a part of the international Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement. Proposals seeking divestment from companies doing business with Israel have been rejected at the last four consecutive General Assemblies in 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2012, yet they keep coming back as if none of these previous considerations, and subsequent rejections, had happened. Official committees of the PC(USA) like the Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) and the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) have failed to recognize the spirit and intent of prior General Assembly actions and have continued to promote the very kind of negative approach to peacemaking that prior General Assemblies have rejected. This is wrong and must end.
We all want to see an end to the conflict and the occupation, but here a moment of truth is called for: the occupation will not and cannot end until the Palestinian people and their leaders choose a viable, democratic, Palestinian state, committed to living peacefully alongside the Jewish state of Israel. This is the hope of all of us, but this point has not yet been reached.
We wish to thank in advance all of those commissioners, advisory delegates, and staff coming to the PC(USA)’s 221st General Assembly with a Biblical commitment to a more just and peaceful world.
Concurrence with additional rationale approved by the Presbytery of Santa Barbara, 440th Stated Meeting on February 8, 2014