The Middle East peace process is often described as complex and nuanced. While this is true, the most widely endorsed path to peace, the “two state solution”, is built on a foundation of two essential principles:
The Palestinian people have the right to self-determination and freedom.
The people of Israel have the right to security, peace, and freedom from violent attack.
A sound starting point for assessing different viewpoints and proposals on Middle East peacemaking is to simply ask the question: Is the content of what is being presented consistent with both of these two essential principles? If not, it should not be endorsed or supported.
The action taken by the 216th Presbyterian General Assembly in 2004, which called for a policy of divestment with companies doing business with Israel, failed to meet the test of these two essential principles. In calling for an “end to occupation” without acknowledging the legitimate security concerns of Israel, the 2004 GA chose an extreme and indefensible path. Fortunately, the Presbyterian community came together in 2006, rectified this terrible mistake, and rescinded the policy of divestment. Recent general assemblies have also wisely chosen to decline requests for endorsement of documents, such as the Kairos Palestine document, that reject essential principles for effective peacemaking.
Subsequent events have confirmed the wisdom of rejecting divestment. The 2007 takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas, following Israel’s unilateral evacuation from Gaza, laid bare the sharp divisions within Palestinian society that must still be overcome for the two-state solution to become a reality. While the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has made substantial progress toward peace, Hamas, controlling 40% of the Palestinian population, remains to this day committed to the destruction of Israel. Just a few weeks ago, innocent Israeli civilians were attacked and killed while driving to the resort city of Eilat on the Red Sea, and as this is written, cities in Southern Israel face almost daily rocket attacks from Gaza.
Our goal at Presbyterians for Middle East Peace is to advocate for Presbyterian peacemaking that conforms to the essential principles described here. As we approach the 220th Presbyterian General Assembly, Presbyterians will be presented multiple overtures on the Middle East. We pray that they choose wisely.