Since 2004, when the PCUSA started down the rabbit hole of divesting from stocks related to Israel, the PCUSA has systematically made itself irrelevant to any peace process in the Middle East. Rather than embracing the role of peacemaker, we have marginalized ourselves by pursuing one, ill-fated strategy: isolate Israel. We did this despite the example of Jesus’ ministry in which he intentionally embraced those others sought to isolate: lepers, women, the poor, Gentiles and tax collectors.
The events of the past month show the PCUSA the folly of our attempts to isolate Israel. First, the United Arab Emirates and, more recently, Bahrain have decided to end their efforts to isolate Israel. Other nations such as Sudan, Oman and Morocco are apparently considering similar actions. David Ignatius, respected columnist on foreign affairs and defense policy, wrote in The Washington Post (9/12/20), “The decision by two wealthy Gulf countries to recognize Israel doesn’t help the shattered nations of the Middle East, such as Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Libya. And it doesn’t represent Middle East peace, whatever may be said at the White House next week. But for a region that sometimes seems to be in slow-motion collapse, it’s a building block for a better future.”
While the PCUSA has made many mistakes with its Middle East policies, we have gotten one thing correct: the Palestinians deserve a sovereign state just as the Israelis deserve a sovereign state. Can this time of enormous change in the relationships between Israel and its neighboring states be a moment when the PCUSA changes our approach? Can we calm the voices in the PCUSA that seek to demonize Israel and, instead, double down on our official and long-standing position of two states for two peoples? Can we develop a voice for justice for the Palestinians that does not do so at the expense of Israel’s security and sovereignty?
At PFMEP, one of our greatest concerns has always been that the Palestinians will lose some of their oldest friends and financial supporters in the form of the Gulf states if these Arab leaders decide it is in their political interest to change their policy toward Israel and lessen their support for the Palestinians. This is exactly what we are seeing today. Moving forward, the PCUSA can play a powerful role in achieving justice for Palestinians if we will reorient ourselves to strategies that help create non-corrupt government and a burgeoning economy for the Palestinians.
The PCUSA has a long, wonderful relationship with the people of Lebanon. What are we doing with and for them in a time of national meltdown? We have had strong relationships with Christians in Syria, Iraq and Iran? What are we doing with and for them? If we put one-half the time and money into actions to help these countries that we have put into the divestment issue, we could make a real difference.
While we are seeking practical, real-world solutions to build a healthy Palestinian state, can the PCUSA also become a voice for other places in crisis in the Middle East, places we have basically ignored in our myopic preoccupation with the Palestine-Israel conflict?