The Middle East “Road Map to Peace” calls for a two state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, with Israel the homeland of the Jewish People and Palestine the homeland of the Palestinian people. It respects the dignity, rights, and aspirations of both peoples, and makes simultaneous demands on both. For Israel, the primary requirement is ceding land to a viable Palestinian State. For Palestinians, it is pledging peace with Israel as a neighbor, establishing civil institutions and the rule of law, and ending the violence directed toward the Israeli people. The Roadmap is endorsed by the “Quartet” of the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia. It is the path that our Church should follow.
Rejecting the “Road Map”, advocates of the Boycott/Divestment/Sanction (BDS) Movement relentlessly petition our church to take a different path. The BDS movement demands that Israel vacate the Palestinian territories unilaterally and unconditionally, with no guarantee from the Palestinian people of security for the people of Israel. BDS advocates depict the Palestinian people as seeking nothing more than freedom and the right of self-determination. They promote the premise that Israel can end the conflict by removing it’s military presence in and around the Palestinian territories, and dismantling Jewish settlements in the West Bank. They assert that by pressuring the government of Israel to take these steps, sustainable peace would follow.
Are the assertions of the BDS Movement supported by the facts? In recent years the government of Israel actually initiated a plan to end the conflict unilaterally, just as Israel’s critics have advocated, with a policy called “disengagement”. The first phase of disengagement was removal of all Israeli security forces and Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005. The hope was that this gesture would build momentum for peace, and that after successful implementation of disengagement in Gaza, the same process of withdrawal could be implemented in the West Bank.
Instead, events following the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza led to disappointment. Palestinians held general elections in 2006, and voted the militant movement Hamas into power, with a majority of legislative seats won by Hamas candidates. The written Charter of Hamas calls for the destruction of Israel, rejects the two-state solution, and even claims a mandate from God for Muslims to kill Jews. Tragically, the elections could only be interpreted by Israel, and the rest of the world, as a rejection of peaceful coexistence with Israel by the Palestinian people.
In 2007, the situation worsened, with Hamas violently taking over the Gaza Strip while the Palestinian Authority retained control of the West Bank. Hamas is provided backing and weapons by Iran, and shares the goal of Israel’s destruction with Hezbollah, the militant organization which now effectively controls Lebanon. Thousands of rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza, prompting the return of Israeli defense forces to Gaza in late 2008. Tensions remain high today, with Hamas remaining steadfast in it’s commitment to the destruction of Israel and rejection of peaceful coexistence with Israel.
These facts suggest that unilateral removal of Israeli security forces from in and around the Palestinian territories, under international pressure and without peace being established, would be counterproductive and put groups openly committed to the destruction of Israel in a stronger position. This would not benefit the Palestinians who seek peaceful coexistence, nor move their cause forward. It would in fact expose them to yet more violence, as they are inevitably caught in the middle of conflict.
If the Presbyterian Church stands behind BDS, or endorses and promotes documents that favor BDS, such as The Kairos Palestine document or the Amman Call, we are standing in opposition to the wisdom and fairness of the “Road Map”. We are standing against the position of not only our government, but the entire European Union and the United Nations. We are telling the people of Israel that we are indifferent to their security and safety. We are not acting as advocates for the Palestinian people, as they stand to benefit most from an end to the conflict, and BDS empowers those who most violently and fanatically oppose peace. It is the wrong path, a path which our Church should not follow.