Sowing the Seeds of Peace

To put things bluntly, Middle East developments in late 2012 were discouraging and depressing. The outbreak of violence between Israel and Hamas led to needless and pointless loss of life, and subsequent unilateral actions by both the Palestinian Authority and Israel set the peace process back, not forward. Some are calling the two-state solution “dead.” We disagree. The two-state solution remains the best path to sustainable peace, and we believe that if anything, recent events call for a renewed commitment to peacemaking by Israelis, Palestinians, and the international community. We call upon the Presbyterian community to continue advocating 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 and proven, 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. 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 an Israeli announcement of West Bank settlement expansion that many in the international community contend will hinder creation of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state. Israel also suspended tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority, with taxes collected instead directed to unpaid electric power obligations of the PA. We call on both parties to restrain from unilateral actions, return to negotiation, and get the peace process moving in a positive direction.

For Palestinians, the challenges center around overcoming the sharp 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 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 will 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 road may be long and hard, but as long as there are ordinary Israelis and Palestinians of good will who yearn for peace, and there are many, they must not be abandoned. The obvious focus in recent months has been Gaza and the huge obstacle to peace that Hamas and other violent factions represent. It should not be forgotten, however, that over the last several years the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has made important strides 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 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 focus on grassroots dialogue and bridge-building toward that end. Only when this work is successful can leaders on both sides negotiate sustainable peace.

The 220th Presbyterian General Assembly, held in Pittsburgh last July, rejected a misguided proposal for divestment from three companies doing business in Israel. Instead of divestment, the Assembly called for the PC(USA) to pursue a positive course of action. The statement below was voted on and adopted as PC(USA) policy:

The 220th Presbyterian General Assembly:

Calls for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to pursue a positive and creative course of action with respect to the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict that will make a difference in the lives of those who are most vulnerable on all sides and that will preserve an effective witness to peace in the entire region.

Calls for a process of engagement that will bring Jews, Christians, and Muslims from the U.S. into effective partnering for study, travel, and social action.

Advocates for the development of educational programs that expose U.S. Christians, Jews, and Muslims to the varied experiences of both Palestinians and Israelis.

Calls for a plan of active investment in projects that will support collaboration among Christians, Jews, and Muslims and help in the development of a viable infrastructure for a future Palestinian state. We also encourage greater denominational engagement with Christians in the West Bank around issues of job creation and economic development.

Instructs the General Assembly Mission Council to create a process to raise funds to invest in the West Bank, and the program will be inaugurated no later than the meeting of the 221st General Assembly (2014).

We close with “The Parable of the Sower” told by Jesus in the gospel of Mark. While this parable has multiple levels of meaning, at its simplest it guides us to the patience, perseverance, and determination called for in peacemaking:

 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed.  As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.  Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.  But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.  Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain.  Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.” (Mark 4:3-8)