[Episcopal News Service] Promoting a peaceful, two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict has seldom been more discouraging or difficult, delegates to the annual Churches for Middle East Peace Conference, held in Washington, D.C., April 20-22, heard from a variety of experts.
But this work is more important than ever, representatives from 22 Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican and Catholic church bodies and organizations learned, and must continue if peace is to come to that troubled land.
The event, “Calming the Storm: Middle East Peacemaking in a Turbulent Time,” drew 130 delegates to the nation’s capital, including 13 Episcopalians from around the country and the Rev. Hosam Naoum, interim dean of St. George’s Cathedral, Jerusalem.
They worshiped together, attended plenary sessions and workshops at Gallaudet University, and then split into small groups on April 22 to take part in 31 scheduled meetings with senators and congressmen on Capitol Hill.
On April 21, Shibley Telhami, Brookings Institute fellow and Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, and Gary Sick, Iran expert and executive director of the Gulf/2000 Project at Columbia University, described some of the region’s current challenges and concerns.
Both men stressed their conviction that it is the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict, not the emergence of Iran, that remains the most pressing issue in the Arab world.
Telhami cited his 2008 Annual Arab Public Opinion Poll, which surveyed 4,046 people in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
“Everything I have in this poll indicates that the defining prism in Arab opinion is still the Arab-Israeli issue,” he said. “The Sunni-Shia divide is not the issue.”
Further, more than 70 percent of those surveyed said they would support a two-state solution for Israel-Palestine, Telhami said. “But the bad news,” he added, “is that the majority don’t think a two-state solution will ever happen.”
Failed attempts at dialogue, coupled with the Bush administration’s long disengagement and the worsening situation on the ground, have led to rising pessimism, Telhami said.
“I am now seeing the beginning of an abandonment of the two-state solution,” he said. “But there is no alternative to a two-state solution. If a two-state solution fails, there would be protracted conflict for years to come.”
Sick said he hoped the upcoming administration would re-commit to the peace process, and would include groups such as Hamas in the dialogue.
“You really do have to talk to your enemies,” he said. “You simply are never going to make any progress if you don’t.”
Later on April 21, Uri Nir of Americans for Peace Now and Ziad Asali of the American Task Force on Palestine continued the discussion.
“We are losing ground on the battle for a two-state solution,” Asali said. “If the settlements keep on growing, if the checkpoints keep moving around, if the economy keeps going down — there is no agreement that is going to reverse it.”
Nir reported that among Israelis “there’s a great sense of collective national discontent — a feeling that we’re not there yet, a growing sense of existential threat.”
But in order to be shaken from the status quo, he said, Israel must have incentive to act.
“We see in Israel a certain degree of advocacy fatigue,” he said. “People are disappointed and disenchanted with our ability to impact the public opinion. Here it is different. There is a great deal of excitement and a great deal of will to try and do something.”
The work involves building coalitions among people in all communities who feel strongly about these issues and taking political action, Nir said.
“A one-state solution is not a solution,” he said. “One state, as I see it, is a prescription for perpetual war.”
“To abandon a two-state solution for a one-state solution will lead to another century of political conflict,” said Philip C. Wilcox Jr., president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace. “We have a job to do here at home just as the Israelis and Palestinians have a job to do at home.”
“The payload,” said CMEP’s executive director Warren Clark during a Tuesday morning prayer breakfast at the U.S. Capitol, “is actually making calls on our congressmen and senators and asking them to support the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”
Clark urged the CMEP delegates to “deepen, establish and continue” their relationships with their representatives on Capitol Hill.
“This is a very combustible time and the work of CMEP is more important now that ever,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), urging delegates to “keep the faith.”
“Your work is no more important than right now,” he said. “Your work is critical to ensure that the next president will stay engaged on these issues.”
Maureen Shea, director of the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations and chair of the CMEP Board, read from the 122nd Psalm: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, may they prosper that love thee.”
“It is hard to remember a time when there has not been turbulence in the Middle East,” said the Rt. Rev. John Bryson Chane, Episcopal Bishop of Washington. “But that psalm really epitomizes what is possible with hard work and deep prayer for peace.”
Chane urged the delegates to remember that whatever frustrations they encountered on Capitol Hill in this endeavor — bringing peace to Jerusalem — God was certainly on their side.
“[Peace in Jerusalem] is not something that may happen, it is something that will happen, because it has been preordained by God himself,” he said. “But you are God’s hands and feet. There is work to do. Do it well.”
Episcopal Life Daily, April 23, 2008
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