Palestinian UN statehood bid renews pleas for peace talks

Published October 4, 2011

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (2nd,right) meets with the Palestinian delegation led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (2nd, left) Photo: UN/Eskinder Debebe

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sept. 23 formally presented a bid for the United Nations to recognize as a state the territories he leads. Meanwhile, world and church leaders have warned that lasting peace in the region can only be realized through negotiations between Israel and Palestine, and not via shortcuts.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori on Oct. 3 issued a pastoral letter on Israeli-Palestinian peace with a reminder that the Episcopal Church has repeatedly stated over the course of multiple decades that "a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians can be achieved only by bilateral negotiations between the two parties themselves."

Abbas handed the official application for Palestine’s full U.N. membership to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York, during the General Assembly’s annual meeting in late September.

The Episcopal Church has long advocated and legislated in support of a two-state solution in which a secure and universally recognized state of Israel lives alongside a secure, independent and viable Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states.

Despite diplomatic efforts by the United States and international leaders, direct talks between the two parties broke down in late September 2010 when Israel refused to extend a moratorium on building settlements unless the Palestinian Authority recognized them as a Jewish state. At the same time, Palestinian leaders refused to continue negotiations unless Israel extended the moratorium.

The Executive Council, at its most recent meeting in June, expressed "profound concern at the impasse between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in the process toward … a two-state solution" and acknowledged that Palestinian efforts for U.N. recognition of statehood are a response to stalled negotiations.

"There is little doubt that the impasse of the present moment has brought frustrations in all quarters to new highs," said Jefferts Schori.

"For Palestinians, the challenges and burdens of life under occupation, and a shrinking footprint for a future Palestinian state, are untenable. For Israelis, the fear that changes in the region will lead to increased violence and hostility from all directions after a decade of relative harmony is equally untenable," she added. "For those of us who love both Israel and the Palestinian people, the frustration of continual advocacy for political solutions that don’t come to fruition is disempowering and demoralizing. It is fair to say that we are not just at an impasse, but a real crisis."

Abbas, addressing the U.N. General Assembly in Arabic through an interpreter on Sept. 23, said that Palestinians had entered negotiations "with open hearts…and sincere intentions" but that they broke down because the Israeli government "refuse[s] to commit" to international law and U.N. resolutions and continues to build settlements "that threaten a future state of Palestine."

Abbas said that acceptance of the statehood bid would be the "greatest contribution to peacemaking … throughout the world. Palestine is being reborn. May all the people of the world stand with the people of Palestine … in freedom and independence."

Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu, also addressing the General Assembly Sept. 23, said he extends his hand "to the Palestinian people with whom we seek a just and lasting peace. In Israel, our hope for peace never wanes."

"I came here to speak the truth," he added. "The truth is that Israel wants peace … [But] peace must be anchored in security. The truth is we cannot achieve peace through resolutions," but through negotiations. Yet, he said, extremism and militant Islam still pervades, threatens Israeli security and prevents the progress of such negotiations."

Jefferts Schori said she is encouraged by the efforts of the Quartet for Middle East Peace – the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia – to put forward "a clear plan for the parties to come back to the negotiating table immediately. I am encouraged that both Israeli and Palestinian leaders have voiced openness to this course, and I am hopeful that the coming weeks will provide meaningful opportunities for each of us to support the parties in coming to the table."

The U.N. Security Council will meet next week to consider whether to accept the Palestinian bid for statehood. In order for it to pass, the bid would need the support of nine out of 15 council members, with no vetoes from the permanent members.

Ahead of the bid, world leaders were urging diplomacy on the issue. U.S. President Barack Obama said that he would use his veto power at the United Nations to halt the bid and insisted that only negotiations between Israel and Palestine would forge lasting peace. On Oct. 3, the U.S. Congress froze $200 million in humanitarian aid to the Palestinian Authority, reportedly in retaliation to the statehood bid.

Meanwhile, French President Nicolas Sarkozy took the middle road, calling on the United Nations to admit Palestine as a non-member state, upgrading its status from observer but falling short of full membership. Sarkozy warned that a veto could cause a wave of violence in the region.

Obama told the United Nations. on Sept. 21 that he fully supports a separate Palestinian state. However, he said, "Israelis must know that any agreement provides assurances for their security. Palestinians deserve to know the territorial basis of their state."

"I know that many of you are frustrated by the lack of progress. I assure you, so am I … But I am convinced that there is no shortcut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades," he added. "Peace is hard work. Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations. If it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now."

Jefferts Schori warned of the consequences of an either/or choice at the United Nations.

"What is clear is that the diplomatic isolation of Israel that could result from a vote in which only a handful of nations refuse recognition of Palestinian statehood would not be productive to achieving peace," she said. "At the same time, it is also clear that a vote in which the United States, as a principal international agent in the peace process, votes – either by itself or with other members of the Security Council – against even symbolic recognition of Palestinian statehood would be deeply unproductive."

Executive Council said at its June meeting that it voiced the church’s "unequivocal opposition to any action by either party that undermines progress toward negotiations" and urged all Episcopalians "to pray for the peace of the Holy Land and advocate to their own governments for maximum international support for a negotiated two-state solution."

Anne Lynn, executive director of the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, said in a statement e-mailed to ENS that "each of us must look into our hearts and discern what we can do to support our brothers and sisters, of all nationalities, as they struggle in a volatile place. We’re at a tipping point and therefore a moment of opportunity. Let’s seize it and build two capable, stable societies side by side."

AFEDJ supports the dozens of humanitarian institutions – schools, hospitals and clinics – of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem throughout Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian Territories. Led by Bishop Suheil Dawani, the Jerusalem diocese, a member of the Anglican Communion, is supported by several parishes and dioceses in the U.S.-based Episcopal Church through prayer, advocacy and financial assistance.

"Compassionate healthcare, education, economic development – these are the building blocks of a peace built from the bottom up," said Lynn. "One imposed from a position of strength cannot be sustained. And without basic social building blocks, we’ll continue to see legitimate frustration and reprisal … A long-term peace is everyone’s goal, but a lasting peace is built on respect for differences, tolerance and a commitment to reconciliation."

According to Jefferts Schori’s letter, at a recent conference in London, Dawani said: "As Christians, we are called to be peacemakers, to continue to provide hope where it is dim, to be voices of the voiceless, and to be advocates for a just and durable peace.

"We must work together with people of other faiths to encourage the politicians to put politics aside and meet midway, where all people are equal; the marginalized and the powerful, the poor and the wealthy, men and women, children and the elderly, regardless of faith or social status."

– Matthew Davies is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.


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