Sunday, March 13, 2011

Searching for a Path Toward Peace

CMEP Bulletin
March 11, 2011

Searching for a Path Toward Peace


Letter to the President
The state of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is in flux as Prime Minister Netanyahu weighs his government’s response to major changes underway in Arab countries and the increasing impatience of European governments with the stalled negotiations with Palestinians. The United States for now is focusing efforts on the collective diplomacy of the Middle East Quartet (the U.S., EU, UN, and Russia), though the Quartet meeting scheduled for March has now been postponed until April.

In the context of this uncertainty, Churches for Middle East Peace sent an open letter to President Obama this week signed by 20 national church leaders urging him to take bold action in concert with the Quartet and other stakeholders to reduce the fear and mistrust that has prevented an agreement, promote readiness of the two sides to reach a deal, and travel to the region soon to propose specific steps to achieve peace. The letter also expressed regret at the U.S. veto of a resolution on Israeli settlement activity in the UN Security Council last month.

Middle East Quartet Meeting Delayed
The Middle East Quartet announced on March 10 that it will not meet as planned during next week’s G20 summit in Paris, but will instead meet at a later date in April. A scheduled meeting of Israeli and Palestinian experts this week did not take place.

However, the Jerusalem Post and others have speculated that the postponement is intended to give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu further time to prepare a “bold” new peace initiative. Netanyahu has probably not yet decided whether to present plans for a comprehensive agreement or more limited temporary measures. Many analysts are expecting the latter course of action, but the Prime Minister is being pulled in opposite directions by the international community and the right-wing members of his own party and constituency.

As the Los Angeles Times reported on March 11, polls released this month show that Netanyahu’s approval rating has dropped to 32% and that more Israelis now support the centrist Kadima party than Netanyahu’s more conservative Likud party.

Britain Ramps Up Pressure on Israel
Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague indicated on Tuesday that the United Kingdom will increase pressure on Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians.

Hague claimed that the UK, France and Germany will call for the international community to describe what a peace agreement might look like. In the past, Israeli leaders have strongly resisted an specific proposals for a peace framework and have insisted that any solution must come from direct negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian delegations.

Hague’s announcement is in keeping with recent British, French and German policy. Three weeks ago the three countries released a joint statement in favor of a UN Security Council resolution that declared Israeli settlement activity illegal.
In the recent letter CMEP sent to President Obama, an international effort to put forward the framework of a peace agreement between Israel and its neighbors is one of the key tenets of forward progress toward peace, national church leaders indicated. The absence of true and lasting negotiations between the parties involved for more than three years shows that the international community needs to try a bold new move that hasn’t been tried before. Interim agreements, like the proposal that may come out of Netanyahu’s government this spring, is a dangerous substitution to making the hard choices inherent in pursuing direct negotiations on all final status issues.

Barak: Israel To Seek $20 Billion More In Aid
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that Israel may request up to $20 billion more in military aid from the United States.

Barak explained that the additional aid may be needed in response to the changing security environment in the Middle East. With popular uprisings sweeping the region from Morocco to Bahrain, Barak claimed that the aid would not only benefit Israel. “It might be wise to invest another $20 billion to upgrade the security of Israel for the next generation,” he said. “A strong, responsible Israel can become a stabilizer in a turbulent region.”

Whether the United States would fulfill such a question is unclear. The United States already gives Israel $3 billion in military aid annually, and the request would come at a time when Democrats and Republicans are deadlocked over deep budget cuts.

Funding Fears
While Israel is appealing for more military aid, the U.S. government’s spending on projects around the world is under scrutiny as Congress works toward yet another continuing resolution in the absence of finalizing a 2011 budget. One of the aspects of U.S. aid that is facing the chopping block, and sharp criticism, is our government’s contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), which provides a broad range of essential services to 4.7 million Palestinian refugees in the Middle East. More than 3,000 messages have been sent by folks around the country in response to CMEP’s Action Alert this week calling for you to write your members of Congress in support of continued U.S. funding of UNRWA. Add your voice to the support of this vital agency that helps sustain a capable and healthy Palestinian society that will be a good neighbor to Israel when peace comes.

Talking to Congress
More than 2,600 people have signed on to a letter telling the 112th Congress that peace in the Holy Land must be a priority. Add your name to the letter today. It’s also incredibly valuable that you get the chance to meet with your elected officials and their staff face to face so we encourage you to sign up to participate in meetings in your district this month.

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