Thursday, February 7, 2008

CMEP: Churches with a Skewed View of Middle East Peace

One of the sad ironies of the Arab-Israeli conflict is that groups with either peace or justice in their names are generally interested in neither.

CMEP stands for "Churches for Middle East Peace," but they're really just a typical anti-Israel pressure group.

It can be educational to read materials from such groups. We include the text of CMEP's December newsletter, along with some comments enclosed in brackets.

The CMEP web site is at and the newsletter may be found at

Quarterly Policy Analysis Newsletter

Holy Land Peacemaking on Center Stage in 2008

December 2007 Newsletter

By Corinne Whitlatch, Executive Director

With the news filled with articles and commentary about the Annapolis peace initiative and US relations with Iran, I am reminded of 1978 when I began working for Middle East peace, at the regional office of the American Friends Service Committee in Des Moines. As I clean my desk in preparation for my retirement as Executive Director of Churches for Middle East Peace after 21 years, I reflect on these years of organizing national churches and local church members for education and advocacy in support of peace and justice.

[It is impossible to ever undo the injustice caused by six decades of Arab war, terrorism and intransigence.]

In 1978, President Carter brought Egypt's President Sadat and Israeli PM Begin to Camp David to hammer out the first major breakthrough in the Arab-Israeli conflict by negotiating a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. Israel's occupation of the Sinai ended, but the occupation of other land as a result of the 1967 war - Gaza, the West Bank including east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights - continued.

[Israel tried to give Gaza back to Egypt, but Egypt refused.

Israel offered the Golan, which was originally promised to the Jews in the Balfour Declaration, to Syria, but Syria refused.

Israel has completely left Gaza.

Most of the Arabs in the West Bank are living it territory long ago handed over to the Palestinian Authority.

Jerusalem happens to be Israel's capital.

The United Nations called upon the establishment of secure and recognized borders. Obviously, Israel cannot determine those unilaterally, so the disputed territories must remain disputed — using the term occupied is both inaccurate and misleading — until the Arabs are willing to agree to borders.]

Near my home in Iowa is Iowa State University with a large number of foreign students. Downtown on Saturdays in 1978 were demonstrations by Iranian students, wearing paper bag masks to hide their identity, with petitions protesting the shah's cruel regime. In 1979, the shah fled, Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile to usher in the Islamic Republic and the U.S. embassy was taken hostage.

During this 30 year span, much has changed, some progress has been made, and the challenge of resolving these conflicts has sharpened.

By looking back, we can see the way forward.

[The rest of her letter reveals a rather distorted vision of the way forward and complete ignorance of the key ingredient needed: the willingness of the Arabs to abandon their drive to destroy Israel and agree to a reasonable compromise.]

Spotlight on Settlements

The second piece of the Camp David Accords, regarding Israel withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, was the topic of follow-up meetings between Sadat and Begin until the process broke down in mid- 1980. Meanwhile, Begin encouraged accelerated Jewish settlement in the occupied territories, increasing from 17 settlements with 5,000 settlers in 1977 to 100 settlements with a population of more than 20,000 in 1982. Throughout the years since 1978, Israeli settlements in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza continued to grow, with the exception of those in Gaza dismantled in 2005.

[There was no "Israel withdrawal from" Judea and Samaria included in the Camp David Accords. There was a provision for setting up autonomy for the Palestinian Arabs, but it never happened because neither Egypt nor the Palestinian Arabs were willing to engage in the necessary negotiations.

Meanwhile, the Arab population of the disputed territories expanded far more than the Jewish population there.]

The demand for Israel to cease settlement building was revived at the November Annapolis meeting, and follow-up meetings are planned. Now, negotiators must deal with a situation of 450,000 settlers (260,000 in the West Bank and 190,000 in East Jerusalem), complicated by President Bush's April 2004 letter to Prime Minister Sharon noting that the realities on the ground make it unrealistic to expect the outcome of negotiations to be a full return to the armistice line of 1949, generally referred to as the "green line."

[A tiny note of realism. Of course, the armistice agreements themselves specified those lines were never to be borders and that was effectively reiterated in United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338.]

The tied commitments of Israel to freeze settlements and of Palestinians to end violence, as the first step in 2003 launch of the "road map" peace plan, have not been met. The Annapolis meeting reset the clock on the road map, but it remains to be seen if settlement building will halt and if Palestinians can rein in militant violence.

[Given that both Palestinian Authority governments are led by terrorist organizations committed to "armed struggle" in their charters, there's no hope they will ever "rein in militant violence."

To freeze construction of Jewish housing in the disputed territories without a corresponding freeze in Arab housing there amounts to an unfair and unrealistic double standard. It is also in violation of the principle of not prejudicing the outcome of negotiations for a final settlement.]

Big question: Will settlement building stop and, if not, what will President Bush do?

[The big question is whether the Arabs will ever start adhering to their most basic commitment under both the Oslo Accords and the Roadmap: the abandonment of terrorism.]

Jerusalem for All?

Unlike the West Bank and Gaza, Israel annexed east Jerusalem and its environs and proclaimed the expanded city to be Israel's reunited and eternal capital and not subject to negotiation. Even though Israel's claim to all of Jerusalem was not accepted by the US government or the international community, disputing the status of Jerusalem was a taboo topic in Washington. For years, the US Congress has passed legislation mandating the movement of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel's capital city, Jerusalem - a move that successive Presidents refused.

[A big mistake. One more example of continued appeasement of Arab intransigence.]

At Camp David with Clinton and Arafat in 2000, Israel Prime Minister Barak acknowledged that Israeli claims to east Jerusalem were not absolute and that some measure of Palestinian sovereignty might be possible. At the conclusion of the failed peace talks, President Clinton outlined bridging proposals including for Jerusalem. As a general principle, he stated "Arab areas are Palestinian and Jewish ones are Israeli," and in the Old City, Palestinians would have sovereignty over the Haram and Israelis would have sovereignty over the West Wall.

[When Arafat rejected peace and launched his terror offensive, all offers came off the table.

While it may make some sense to give some peripheral areas to the Palestinian Arabs, it makes no more sense to divide Jerusalem, a city which as Israel's capital is open to all, than it makes to divide Mecca or Medina. Jerusalem, while central to Jews, has relatively little significance for Arabs and Muslims.]

Now, discussions on Jerusalem's future as a city to be shared by Israelis and Palestinians as the capital of each state are commonplace. Scenarios for how Jerusalem might be shared, or some would say divided, have been drafted by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. Considerable progress has been made in just how this very thorny final status issue will be settled. While the Bush Administration has not reiterated Clinton's proposal, it has stood firm on the position that Jerusalem's status can only be established by means of negotiations and has criticized Israeli actions that would prejudge the future status of the city prior to negotiations.

Big question: Will President Bush elaborate on his vision of a Palestinian state to include "with its capital in Jerusalem?"

[Portions of Jerusalem were incorporated into the Palestinian Arab state of Jordan for nineteen years, yet nobody felt it important to make it the capital.

If the Palestinian Arabs are ever willing to make peace, they can build an embassy in Jerusalem. That would, legally, be their sovereign territory and they could consider it their capital.]

Refugees Still Waiting

Little progress has been made in resolving the situation of the Palestinian refugees during these decades. Generations of Palestinians crowd the refugee neighborhoods in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. However, the reiterated promises of Arab and Palestinian leaders that these refugees will be able to return to their homes in Israel have been trumped by the Arab League Peace Initiative that calls for an "agreed" solution, which would require Israel's approval.

[Obviously, while Israel might allow the immigration of some of the remaining refugees, all of whom will be at least sixty years old this year, it's not going to allow the immigration of the descendants of those refugees.

The mere mention of the misleading term "return" is an indication of a lack of seriousness when it comes to peace.]

This particular final status issue is a regional matter that involves neighboring Arab states as well as Israelis and Palestinians. As is the case with Jerusalem, the refugee issue can only be resolved as a package deal that includes all the final status issues and is within the framework of a comprehensive agreement between Israel, Palestine, and the Arab states. Proposals have been drafted that would both recognize the Palestinian refugees' suffering while also taking into account the needs and aspirations of both peoples in the context of a two- state solution.

[Actually, the refugees and their descendants are a non-issue. Just as Israel absorbed the Jewish refugees who were kicked out of their homes in Arab lands, the Arabs will have to absorb their brethren.]

Big question: Will President Bush pursue a comprehensive peace agreement or limit his engagement to Palestinian-Israeli negotiations?

Setting the Borders

The "green line" between Israel and the West Bank was not visible 30 years ago, neither shown on Israeli maps or by markers on the ground. But this armistice line from the 1948 war was indicated by a dotted line on international maps and, through UNSC Res. 242, recognized as the dividing line between Israel and the Jordanian-controlled territories that were occupied and from which, Israeli withdrawal is required. The lack of a clear border line allowed some semblance of interaction between Israelis and Palestinians, but the breakdown of negotiations at Camp David in 2000 and the violence that followed resulted in separation both psychologically and physically.

Now, the distinction between the West Bank and Israel is made all too visible by the wall and fence infrastructure that Israel is building, ostensibly for security purposes. The current debate is not about the existence of a border, but the location of the border. Resolution of the border issue is inextricably connected to other final status issues, settlements, Jerusalem and security.

[Ostensibly??? The barrier was forced on the government by parents tired of having their children blown up in malls, discotheques and pizza parlors by Arab terrorists. It's saved lives.]

Big question: Will the border be based on the 1967 "green line" or defined by the separation barrier that Israel is building?

[The border should be based on the demographics in the disputed territories, with heavily Arab areas going to the Arabs, heavily Jewish areas going to Israel, and the lightly populated areas divided equitably.]

Palestinian National Movement

Thirty years ago, the Palestinian people were struggling for recognition as a national movement. In 1976, the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) became a member of the Arab League and gained observer status to the United Nations. But it wasn't until the late 80's that the United States agreed to talk with the PLO officials; still, at the 1991 Madrid conference the US insisted that the Palestinian delegation not include PLO members. It wasn't until the Oslo Accords in 1993, which was based on mutual recognition by Israel and the PLO, that the United States agreed to negotiations with the PLO.

[Yet even today the ostensibly "moderate" leader of the Ramallah branch of the Palestinian Authority adamantly refuses to recognize the reality of Israel as a Jewish state.]

Jordan controlled the West Bank and east Jerusalem until July of 1988 when King Hussein stunned the international community by renouncing Jordan's claim. As the Palestinian uprising, known as the intifada, took root, the Palestinian National Council in late 1988 declared an independent Palestinian state and accepted UN Resolutions 242 and 338.

[They may have said out of one side of their mouths that they accepted 242 and 338, but they have continued to violate them.]

Now, with its authority to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian people undisputed internationally, the PLO has been, in large part, transformed into the Palestinian Authority whose leadership is contested by the religious party Hamas. The questions of recognizing Israel and renouncing violence that the PLO answered now nearly 20 years ago are being replayed as Hamas stands defiant. The division within Palestinian society is deep and there is a lack of will at this point to reconcile, complicated by US policies intended to isolate and punish Hamas and end its control of Gaza.

Big question: Will Hamas moderate and can internal Palestinian divisions be overcome to achieve the unity necessary for a durable peace?

[Unless and until Hamas, Fatah and the countless other Arab terrorist groups completely change, there's no chance of even a shaky peace.]

A Changed World

The Israeli-Arab conflict, 30 years ago, was a fuse to super-power conflict. US policy in the Middle East, and globally, was dedicated to the perceived threat posed by the Soviet Union. As the USSR gave support to the nascent Palestinian cause and armed its Arab allies, the United States bolstered its influence by arming Israel and oil-producing allies, including Iran under the leadership of the shah.

Then, secularism was a tenet of Soviet principles and the Arab leaders in the Soviet orbit repressed opposition, most especially from the Muslim Brotherhood. As the Islamist political movement spread throughout the region, governments tied to the Soviets and those allied with the West, felt the heat.

Now, the Soviet Union no longer exists, but the United States is newly challenged by the emergence of a resurgent sense of Muslim self-identity across the region that is expressed in a multitude of ways, including political engagement and, by some, violent acts against their rulers and the West.

It was in Iran, nearly 30 years ago, that religious leaders joined with leftist opponents to topple the secular US-backed ruler. Ever since Iranian students seized American diplomats and held them hostage for over a year, United States-Iran relations have been broken and characterized by hostile rhetoric.

Now, there are new doors opening for diplomatic engagement to resolve the Israeli-Arab conflict and to restore relations with Iran.

[And Pangloss believes this is the best of all possible worlds.]

Changes at CMEP

Churches for Middle East Peace has grown from a working group of Washington staff of protestant churches in the National Council of Churches into a broad coalition that includes Catholics and Orthodox churches and organizations and has greatly strengthened its advocacy voice on Capitol Hill. I retire from CMEP knowing it is in good hands - with an extraordinary staff, dedicated Board and a new Executive Director, Warren Clark. Together they will continue to guide CMEP and the CMEP network of church members and clergy toward timely and effective advocacy.


2008 is sure to be a significant year for Israeli-Arab peacemaking. President Bush has set a goal of establishing a Palestinian state by the end of the year. Doubt is reasonable, but inaction is not. CMEP's role, and yours, is to express the churches' long-standing commitment to peacemaking and to help provide policymakers with the necessary commodities - moral courage and political will. Our concern should not be predicting whether the peace talks that will follow the Annapolis meeting will fail or succeed but doing everything we can do to ensure they become the vehicle for a just peace.

There are rejectionists in all camps - political and religious - who will work hard to dissuade your senators and representative from supporting the strong leadership by President Bush and Secretary Rice that is essential for real progress in negotiations. Your voice is important now, and will be necessary during the year as specific issues come onto the table.

CMEP urges advocacy directed toward the Administration and to the Congress. Make the following points in calls or emails to President Bush and your Senators and Representative:

As an American Christian, I long for the day when there will be peace in the Holy Land. I encourage the President and Secretary of State to continue their strong leadership following the Annapolis meeting, with the bipartisan support of Congress, toward the goal of a viable and independent Palestinian state and a negotiated end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the end of 2008.

[Given the continued unwillingness of the Palestinian Arabs to move from the positions they held at the start of the Oslo disaster and the continued incitement even under the ostensibly moderate Mahmoud Abbas, the probability of a negotiated settlement this year, or within the foreseeable future, is effectively zero.]

I support sustained, robust U.S. diplomatic engagement, together with the Arab League states and the Quartet, to help achieve a comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace that includes agreements between Israel and Syria, and Israel and Lebanon.
I urge the President and Secretary of State to continue to work with Israeli PM Olmert and Palestinian President Abbas to make progress both on the humanitarian and security conditions on the ground and on negotiations on final status issues, such as Jerusalem, borders, refugees, settlements, security and water.

[Totally ignored is the only real issue: the unwillingness of the Arabs to live in peace with Israel.]

White House: 202-456-1111 or

Congress: 202-224- 3121 or and

Churches for Middle East Peace
110 Maryland Ave., NE #311
Washington, DC 20002

We suggest you write to CMEP and suggest they consider becoming part of the solution rather than continuing to be part of the problem.

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