Day 22 - Possibilities for Peace

Over the weeks we have shared the experiences, and some of the lessons gained, of the participants in the Yale Divinity School’s travel seminar “Sacred Lands: Common Grounds?” 

 We hope that through this “virtual accompaniment” you have been able to share in the learning experience.   Upon our return, we have been asked: “What are the options and possibilities for peace?”  “Do you have any hope for the situation?”   

While the vast majority of both Palestinians and Israeli’s favor the “two-state solution,” hardly anyone we met had hope that an agreement is likely in the near term due to several factors.  One factor that works against a peace agreement is the scheduled elections not only in the U.S. in 2012; Israeli elections are scheduled for the fall of 2013 (and may be held earlier); and Palestinian elections are scheduled for May 2012.  

A second factor is that while peace negotiations are on hold the right-wing factions of the Netanyahu government have been busy expanding settlements and tightening the Occupation, designed to threaten any realistic hope of a two-state solution—and, as an opinion piece in Haaretz points out, “to wipe out the last chance for a reasonable arrangement in Jerusalem.”

As political posturing for Israeli elections begin, clearly Netanyahu’s coalition on the right is fragile, and already there are signs of fissure.  Unless there is some unforeseen bold act on his part, it is most likely Netanyahu will not take the political risks that compromises of a peace process will require—especially on the issues of settlements, land swaps, and a shared Jerusalem.   With looming U.S. elections, it is equally unlikely that the Obama administration will risk taking any bold peace initiatives this year.   For their part, the Palestinians have political complications in advance of elections as well, including the negotiations to overcome the split between Fatah and Hamas. The leadership vacuum created by election seasons risks the continued advance of settlements and the erosion of the possibility of a viable Palestinian State.  

Despite the politics of the moment, Palestinians are making a new peace overture to the Netanyahu.  President Abbas has written a letter that reportedly outlines the details of a Palestinian negotiating position to be delivered to Netanyahu on Wednesday during a meeting in Jerusalem with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.   In advance of receiving the letter, Netanyahu has indicated that he will send Abbas a letter of response.

Will this be a moment when serious proposals are exchanged or simply a moment of posturing for election constituents?  That remains to be seen.  It is clear, however, that a two-state solution is the one sure path to a lasting peace with security and rights for both Palestinians and Israelis.  Continuing to put off serious peace negotiations risks hope for a viable end to conflict and leaves the Palestinians living like prisoners in the Occupied territories. 

The irony is that the elements of a peace agreement are clear.  A New York Times article last fall presented at least three of the land swap options:    Peace is possible!  It is a question of political will and how much more suffering will take place before peace is possible.

As we finish this journey together, we are reminded of our conversation with Bishop Chacour when he said:    “Our humanity imposes on us a duty to make things better for those around us . . . If taking our side would mean for you to start hating the Jews, we do not need your friendship. We do not need another enemy here—we need a common friend . . . Let’s build a bridge over the wall rather than wasting our power bumping against it.” 

A final note:  Though today’s blog post was written to address the issue of peace negotiations, our travels encompassed many facets of history and contemporary life for both Israelis and Palestinians.  We were privileged to meet with a range of extraordinary people.  We were especially inspired by the witness and service of the many Palestinian Christians we met.  A YDS student on the travel seminar wrote an article that captures the experiences of participants.   It is worth reading: