Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) has issued its September Policy Analysis & Advocacy Action Newsletter.
This message can also be found online at: http://www.cmep.org/newsletter/2008September.htm
Click here for the newsletter in pdf format: http://www.cmep.org/newsletter/2008September.pdf
The September CMEP newsletter assesses the state of the Annapolis peace process and examines the role of U.S. diplomacy as we anticipate the fall elections and the transition to a new administration. Included with the newsletter are advocacy action guidance and CMEP's Election 2008 Resource, "Questions to Ask the Candidaes about Middle East Peace" -
To help strengthen and expand CMEP's advocacy network and church partner program in preparation for the peacemaking work ahead through "5 easy ways to spread the word," see this link: http://www.cmep.org/Everyday_Advocacy.htm
Here is the text of the newsletter:
Beyond Annapolis: The U.S. Role in Israeli-Palestinian Peacemaking
By Warren Clark, Executive Director
The political landscape on issues related to Israel and the peace process is changing. The zero sum game of the past has been discredited. The interdependence of the two peoples is indisputable. During this campaign season both Presidential candidates have said they support Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. Even their varied comments on Jerusalem have included welcome acknowledgement that its status should be decided through negotiations. J-Street has emerged as a new and unprecedented pro-Israel and pro-peace non-partisan political action committee that is providing support to Congressional candidates who back Israel's security and a negotiated two-state peace.
The work of Churches for Middle East Peace along with its Jewish and Arab-American allies is finding increasing resonance on Capitol Hill.
"Your tireless advocacy for peace with justice in the Holy Land is an inspiration to me and my colleagues. I am grateful for your work. No matter the odds, we must continue our work for a just peace in the Middle East. We must seize every opportunity to make small gains, even in times of overwhelming challenge." [Rep. David Price (NC-4), CMEP Congressional Prayer for Peace Breakfast, April 22, 2008]
Mainstream Israelis and Palestinians are in almost full agreement on what a peace agreement will look like. President Bush has repeatedly endorsed the idea of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.
Now it is essential that the Bush Administration hand over a functioning peace process to its successor and that the next President seize boldly this opportunity to bring this tragic conflict to a peaceful conclusion.
It is almost a year since the Annapolis Conference of November 2007 re-launched the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians under American auspices and with worldwide support. It is now possible to get a picture of how far the process has gone, what is holding up progress, the prospects for agreement, and the essential role the United States needs to play now and into 2009.
Peace Talks Continue Despite Obstacles
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have gone on almost continually since late last year. There are reportedly a number of draft agreements and even maps. The announcement in July by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of his intention to resign (he may stay on in a caretaker capacity) was accompanied by his statement that he still intends to reach an agreement with the Palestinians to hand over to the next government. Palestinian leaders said they would keep negotiating, notwithstanding political changes in Israel's government.
In many ways, Israel is now closer to peace with the Palestinians and its other Arab neighbors than at any time in the past. This year Israel agreed to a cease-fire with Hamas in Gaza and a prisoner exchange with Hezbollah in Lebanon. It is having proximity talks with Syria mediated by Turkey. There is a relative calm, which may demonstrate a well known phenomenon in the Israel-Palestinian conflict: as long as there is progress, or the appearance of progress, in addressing the conflict, conditions are quiet. However, there is the ever present danger of a repeat of patterns past: once hope is lost, the result is violence or worse.
Recent violence in Jerusalem and hostilities between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza are a warning of the tensions that can explode.
Yet despite the promise of Annapolis and some surprising Israeli-Arab diplomatic developments this year, pessimism remains about the possibility of achieving a negotiated agreement anytime soon, much less its implementation.
Domestic Israeli & Palestinian Political Divides
Deep political divisions on both sides make it difficult for leaders to mobilize their constituencies. Some believe that left to their own devices, neither Israeli nor Palestinian leadership can withstand forces determined to maintain the status quo.
The unsuccessful 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon undermined Olmert's ability to lead his government coalition when he embraced the peace process. The pain of giving up hundreds of settlements; relocating thousands of settlers; ceding control of most of the West Bank; returning the Golan Heights to Syria; and sharing Jerusalem threatens important political, economic and ideological interests and endangers careers. Israel's political cycles have at various times bedeviled the desired timelines of peace efforts, and this fall promises to have its share of commotion in the Knesset.
On the Palestinian side, Hamas and Fatah are deeply divided politically and geographically. Fatah continues to engage in peacemaking with Israel but holds no sway over Gaza and is competing with Hamas in the West Bank, while Hamas has suspended rocket attacks into southern Israel but remains wary of the peace process. There is uncertainty about the degree to which Palestinians will be able to enforce any agreement they may sign.
A Not-so-Honest Broker
The American role in any negotiations is indispensible. However, it has been said that the U.S. has failed at times to heed the Hippocratic injunction to, "First do no harm". In his book published this year, The Much Too Promised Land, Aaron David Miller, an advisor to six secretaries of state on Arab-Israeli issues, including during the 1999-2000 Camp David negotiations, recalled the controversy caused by his 2005 op-ed "Israel's Lawyer" in which he observed that "With the best of motives, we followed Israel's lead without critically examining what that would mean for our own interests, for those of the Arab side and for the overall success of the negotiations...[the Bush Administration] has been exceedingly deferential to Israel's political and security needs without any equivalent sensitivity to the new Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas..."
Annapolis was from the beginning an attempt at regional dialogue and action, notably including key Arab actors such as Syria. However, a hoped for "honest broker" role for the U.S., which should include monitoring compliance to agreements, setting standards of accountability, reporting violations, or exacting consequences when agreements are broken or not implemented, has scarcely been visible.
Lieutenant General William Frasier, named to monitor "Road Map" obligations, including a freeze on settlement activity by Israel and Palestinian security reforms to end violence, has held meetings with the parties, but issued no public report. In fact, there has been something of a building boom in settlement activity since Annapolis. According to figures from Peace Now, in the first three months of 2008 alone, expansion took place in 101 West Bank settlements, including at least 500 buildings, and tenders for the construction of at least 750 housing units in East Jerusalem were issued, a huge increase compared to 46 housing units in 2007. In July, Israel's Defense Ministry approved the construction of a new West Bank settlement, called Meskiyot, in the Jordan Valley.
A Self-Limiting American Role
A year ago this newsletter posed rhetorical questions about the American role in facilitating negotiations on the so-called final status issues: Would the Bush Administration make progress on ending settlement expansion? Would it make clear there can only be a peace agreement if it includes the sharing of Jerusalem?
The answer to these questions unfortunately is "no". Instead of taking issues head on, the American approach has been mostly low key, seeking to provide time for the two parties to negotiate and come up with solutions themselves. The U.S. has emphasized capacity building efforts with the Palestinian Authority to help it enforce West Bank security, government administration, and economic development. These are laudable and necessary but far from sufficient to bring about an agreement.
Key opportunities to provide peacemaking leadership have also been missed. In a speech to the Knesset in May, President Bush made almost no mention of the need to make progress on the peace process. The President has also chosen not to engage on the issue of Jerusalem, leaving the unfortunate impression it can be solved later or separately from other final status issues. During a visit in January 2008 the President said only that Jerusalem is a "tough" issue.
The reality is that a durable peace agreement will require serious compromises and a great deal of hands-on American advocacy to push and pull the two parties, albeit in different ways. The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) has observed that one of the key reasons the United States is so essential in Arab-Israeli negotiations is because the "dramatic asymmetries - of power, and of negotiating tactics - demand a robust third-party role."
The Unsustainable Status Quo
The continuation of the status quo is clearly terrible for all sides. Iranian backed Hamas and Hezbollah remain on Israel's borders and reject Israel's legitimacy. The occupation continues with its daily hardships, including countless barriers and checkpoints that restrict Palestinian travel, and economic activity. The blockade of Gaza largely remains in effect with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) reporting that over half of the Gazan population is living below the poverty line. Jerusalem's fragile coexistence has been broken with three ominous attacks this year on Israelis by Palestinian East Jerusalemites. Tensions in Jerusalem are being fueled by the failure of the municipality to improve the welfare of Arab residents combined with Israel's policies of revoking residency rights, expanding settlements and demolishing homes deemed to not have legal standing.
Conflict management, rather than resolution, has long been the default position of many American politicians. The failure to improve the status quo can appear risk-less from this side of the Atlantic and there is a perception that it is politically dangerous to question it. Yet support for the prevailing situation of unresolved conflict clearly contributes to Israel's insecurity and undermines American interests in the Middle East.
The more time goes on without visible political progress, the greater the danger hope will be lost and what remains of the peace process will break down. It has almost become a mantra of Middle East policy hands that the deadline for the two-state solution is nearing and that this may in fact be the "last chance". As we know from past administrations, the transition time between election-day and the inauguration provides a unique opening for peacemaking, along with serious risks and challenges. In his inaugural address on January 20, 2009, President McCain or President Obama should make the unprecedented statement that he will make resolution of this conflict a top priority during his first 12 months in office.
CMEP's non-partisan election 2008 resources help guide church advocates in making Holy Land peace a top priority of U.S. political candidates and policymakers. For more, go online to: www.cmep.org/elections08/Resources.htm
Elected officials and those vying for public office should know that American Christians care deeply about the longstanding conflict in the Holy Land and the welfare of all the peoples in the region, and want U.S. diplomatic leadership to achieve peace.
In the run-up to the elections in November, there will be many opportunities for advocates to engage their candidates locally, including town hall meetings, forums, public appearances at house parties and church socials and radio call-in shows.
The fundamental question for the next President is whether he will make Israeli-Palestinian peace an urgent foreign policy priority. Congressional initiatives can encourage or undermine diplomatic action by the next administration. Congressional candidates should be asked whether they will rally behind the next President, in a bi-partisan manner, to support robust American leadership on Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. Meanwhile, progress must continue on the Annapolis process and efforts undertaken to ensure continuity into a new administration. For peace to succeed, Israelis and Palestinians must be given hope that one day soon the vision of two states living side by side will be fulfilled.
Tell the Presidential Candidates: Make Holy Land Peace a Top & Immediate Priority
Urge Senators John McCain and Barack Obama to commit to making a two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a top priority for a new administration. Peacemaking efforts must not falter and will require the immediate attention of the next President.
Write to President Bush: Achieve Substantive Progress on Annapolis Process; Ensure a Smooth Transition
Encourage President Bush to redouble his efforts to achieve substantive progress on the Annapolis process this year and to ensure a smooth transition to the next administration so that Mideast peace efforts will not falter in 2009.
Ask Congressional Candidates: Support Robust U.S. Diplomacy in the Middle East
Churches for Middle East Peace has created a new resource for use throughout the 2008 campaign season with both Congressional and Presidential candidates. "Questions to Ask the Candidates on Middle East Peace" - http://www.cmep.org/elections08/Mideast_Peace_Questions_Candidates.pdf
It can be found on CMEP's Elections 2008 Resource Page - http://www.cmep.org/elections08/Resources.htm
John McCain 2008
P.O. Box 16118
Arlington, VA 22215
Obama for America
P.O. Box 8102
Chicago, IL 60680
The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
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