Guest commentary by Christian Iosso
After the 221st General Assembly in 2014, a state department official suggested that we not call it a study of the “two-state solution,” as that would call into question something he and others still hoped for, despite the Israeli government’s resistance. The 2014 commissioners understood why both peace efforts set forth by John Kerry and George Mitchell had failed (settlements, above all); many felt condescended to when Heath Rada, moderator of the 221st GA, was offered a meeting with the Israeli prime minister if the assembly would vote down the divestment of securities in companies supporting the occupation of Palestine. The vote to divest was close, but the vote to study the two-state proposal was 482-488.
The study team organized its study around key issues in the 1993 Oslo accords: Jerusalem; refugees; settlements; security; borders; and took “other issues” to include water, Palestinian economic development and Gaza. Read the documentation. On each, things have gotten worse. By most measures of what constitutes a state, Israel is the one state controlling all of British Mandate Palestine.
Thus, “the door to a viable Palestinian state is closing rapidly, if it is still open at all. … Thomas Friedman, a long-standing proponent of ‘two states for two peoples,’ has suggested that calling for a two-state solution, without acknowledging the reality on the ground, is an exercise in denial,” according to the report released by the Study Team on Prospects for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine.
Should the PC(USA) keep its focus on the two-state policy? The two-state policy is linked to the “land for peace,” a policy formulated through the Palestine National Council’s recognition of Israel along the 1967 Green line (they recognized Israel in 1988) and Oslo’s identification of Palestine as the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem (which Israel says is annexed). The report states, “This resolution takes the position that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) should advance those efforts that best accord with its values, which have relevance in any political arrangement, including but not limited to that of two sovereign states — Israel and Palestine.” The report takes international law seriously: “To keep open the option of a two-state solution, this report …makes a clear distinction between the State of Israel within internationally recognized borders and … the occupied Palestinian territories.”
The study team made two Christian theological decisions:
First, it would avoid the distraction of devising political solutions, at which diplomats have failed for many years. Second, it would apply universal and explicitly Christian values to address the “on-going violations of human rights and increases in mutual hostility. … The Church should foster relationships with partners who share its values, be they Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or secular, without being misled by mirages of peace agreements ungrounded in realism about power. This report does not demonize any people or belief system, but rather illustrates the results of giving one group greatly disproportionate power over another.”
Commissioners and Outlook readers may see here the Christian Realism, for which ACSWP and its predecessors have long been known: “The Israelis and Palestinians are in no sense equal negotiating partners. We reject any false equivalence between the capacity of a prosperous nuclear-armed state and that of a poor, divided, and occupied set of cantons. The Israeli government … labels any resistance as ‘terrorism,’ even though international law gives an occupied people the right to armed struggle to resist the occupier. The … wall, the … checkpoints and … military control divide and demoralize Palestinians, trapping them in unsustainable situations.”
“At the same time,” the report does not absolve Palestinian leadership for “decisions …that discourage new leadership and … passivity in the face of Oslo violations (that) weaken its capacity to negotiate on behalf others in prison, in exile, and under blockade.”
To witness to Presbyterian values for a just peace, the report hears the Palestinian Christian call for nonviolent economic pressure for freedom, dignity and a larger role for the UN/ international law. The team also heard Israeli Jewish voices like this one, worried that an extremist government was making the struggle more about religion than resources: “Systematic land reconfiguration and … strategic settlements … of ‘an exclusionary Jewish Jerusalem’ are ‘marginalizing the other national and religious equities’ … increasing interreligious tension and … the loss of Christian presence.”
CHRISTIAN IOSSO is a social ethicist and the ACSWP coordinator. He served as pastor of the Scarborough Presbyterian Church in New York for more than a dozen years.