By Alan F.H. Wisdom
A proposed resolution from the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) of the Presbyterian Church (USA) faults “Israel’s policy trajectory of continued settlements and brutal occupation” for difficulties in achieving a peace settlement with the Palestinians. By contrast, the resolution declines to attribute blame to the other side in the conflict: the Palestinian Authority leadership. This ACSWP resolution is to be considered, alongside four other anti-Israel proposals, at the PCUSA General Assembly starting Saturday in Portland, OR.
The lengthy resolution, entitled “Israel-Palestine: For Human Values in the Absence of a Just Peace,” was developed by ACSWP in response to a request from the 2014 PCUSA assembly. That assembly asked ACSWP to “make a recommendation about whether the General Assembly should continue to call for a two-state solution in Israel Palestine, or take a neutral stance that seeks not to determine for Israelis and Palestinians what the right ‘solution’ should be.” A “two-state solution” would involve Israel co-existing with a sovereign Palestinian state planted on the West Bank and Gaza. A “neutral stance” would have opened the PCUSA to the alternate possibility, favored by many Palestinian activists, of a single Arab-majority state ruling over the entire land, including its Jewish communities.
This year’s proposal responds ambiguously to the 2014 request. “Over the years,” ACSWP notes, “the Presbyterian church has supported the international consensus favoring a two-state solution with a shared Jerusalem. Yet as situations change, the church must evaluate its positions accordingly. And in the view of many analysts, the door to a viable Palestinian state is closing rapidly, if it is still open at all.”
The resolution complains, “Repeating the mantra of ‘Two-State Solution’ has kept U.S. funding flowing to Israel but has failed to end the violence or lead to mutually accepted solutions.” It decries “the growth of Israeli power and resources and the weakening of Palestinian economic capacity, institutions, and culture, and even family life.” ACSWP cites Israelis and Palestinians who doubt that any peace agreement is possible under such unequal conditions. Nevertheless, the PCUSA committee wishes “[t]o keep open the option of a two-state solution” in the absence of a better alternative.
A Bill of Particulars against Israel
For the stalemated peace process, ACSWP casts all blame upon Israel. It describes the Palestinians as “a people kept stateless by [Israeli] military occupation and exile.” The resolution laments: “Israel’s policy trajectory of continued [Jewish] settlements and brutal occupation [in the Palestinian-majority West Bank] is deeply troubling. Not only does it make a two-state solution increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to achieve, but the emerging, de facto single state’s systematic violation of Palestinian rights and democratic values is eroding Israel’s moral legitimacy.”
The ACSWP resolution delivers a bill of particulars against Israeli policy:
- “The Israeli government has annexed all Jerusalem and expanded the city’s boundaries to include [Jewish] settlements, while depriving Palestinian residents of citizenship and public services….”
- Palestinian “[r]efugees’ right of return to their former homes in what is now Israel … remains unaddressed.”
- “Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, illegal under international law, have continued to expand in number, territory, and population….”
- Israel’s security barrier “primarily on West Bank territory follows a path in defiance of a decision by the International Court of Justice.”
- “Israeli authorities tightly limit the access of Palestinians to water….”
- “Economic development for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza suffers from Israeli restrictions” on the movement of people and goods.
- “Problems in Gaza have always been the most severe, due to the economic and fiscal blockade and periodic attacks by Israel.”
In urging policy changes, the resolution specifically addresses only Israel and the United States. For example, it demands that Israel “stop the collective punishment and isolation of broad sections of the Palestinian population—the blockade of Gaza, the demolition of Palestinian homes and the administrative detention, the torture and forced feeding of Palestinian detainees—and to restore the ID documents and citizenship status that have been stripped from Palestinians in East Jerusalem and elsewhere.” There are no equivalent demands made for respect of human rights by the Palestinian Authority.
Hinting at ‘Limitations of Palestinian Leadership’
The PCUSA committee alludes only briefly to concerns about Palestinian policies. Its resolution speaks elliptically of “limitations of Palestinian leadership” that are not all Israel’s fault. ACSWP criticizes “decisions of the Palestinian Authority that discourage new leadership and its passivity in the face of” alleged Israeli violations of previous peace accords. It grieves, “Despite the daily heroism and nonviolence of countless Palestinians, their political organizations have not maintained the unity needed for strength.” In other words, ACSWP’s insinuation is not that Palestinian leaders are overly aggressive against Israel but the opposite: that the Palestinian Authority is insufficiently aggressive.
The resolution acknowledges in a single phrase that the Islamist Hamas movement controlling Gaza “promotes an antagonistic ideology.” But it is quick to offer excuses: Hamas “mirrors the extremist Israeli settler parties,” its leaders have difficulty operating amidst “repeated Israeli military efforts to remove them since their victory in the free and fair elections of 2006,” and the Islamist movement “has arguably offered long-term truces to Israel in the past.” Unmentioned is the fact that Hamas’s charter declares that the entire “land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf [trust] consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgment Day” and “[t]here is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad.”
ACSWP minimizes Israel’s worries about its security as a small nation surrounded by mostly hostile neighbors. “Israel faces no significant military challenges,” the resolution reassures, and “most Israelis lead relatively secure lives.” It charges that Israel “labels any resistance as ‘terrorism,’ even though international law gives an occupied people the right to armed struggle to resist the occupier.” The use of sneer quotes suggests that Palestinian “resistance” is not “terrorism,” and that it is justified in any case.
The proposed PCUSA resolution defends its one-sided blaming of Israel by asserting that “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 [Israel] and that of a poor, divided, and occupied set of cantons [the Palestinians].” In other words, the inequality of forces absolves Palestinians of any responsibility for the absence of peace.
ACSWP, however, does hold the United States responsible for Israel’s sins. It “urges Congress to hold hearings into the use of U.S.-made and subsidized military and police equipment by the government of Israel in carrying out policies that abuse human rights, violate Geneva Accords, or oppose American principles of religious liberty and nondiscrimination.” ACSWP asks the Internal Revenue Service to revoke the tax-exempt status of “organizations … that promote and finance the development or operation of Israeli settlements.” It makes no similar request regarding the tax-exempt status of organizations that support Palestinian causes. Nor does it express concern about misuse of U.S. aid by the Palestinian Authority.
The resolution denounces “Christian Zionism” as a “heretical belief” that “does not reflect Presbyterian values.” It rejects the Zionist conviction that “[t]here has to be a Jewish state where Jews can find refuge.” It disputes the notion that “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.” It denies that “Islamic extremism is driving Christians out of the Holy Land.”
In the end, ACSWP leaves the question of the “two-state solution” hanging unresolved. It concludes, “This resolution takes the position that the Presbyterian Church (USA) 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.” Those values include “the dignity of all persons, despite our universal capacity to do harm; self-determination of peoples through democratic means; the building up of community and pursuit of reconciliation; equality under the law and reduction in the separation that fosters inequality; recognition of our complicity and the need for confession and repentance; and solidarity with those who suffer.”
“Without repudiating a long-term goal of two free states living in peace and prosperity, or losing hope that the United States can use its influence and considerable funds in a proportionate and helpful way,” the proposed resolution says, “the Presbyterian Church (USA) hopes to act with both integrity and effectiveness, seeking enforcement of international law and solidarity with civil society organizations to protect the individual and collective human rights of Palestinians.” The resolution makes no mention of solidarity in protecting the individual and collective human rights of Israelis.