Letter from WCC general secretary to members of the UN “Middle East quartet”
Geneva, 8 February 2006
I write this letter to you at a critical juncture in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We address your office with deep concern that all the members of the Middle East Quartet work in new ways to meet the new situation emerging from last month’s Palestinian election. The World Council of Churches would commend to you to fully exercise your responsibilities in this regard. Much now depends on how the international community under your leadership responds, given the increasingly broad and dangerous implications of this unresolved conflict for the region and much of the world.
We would like to call your attention to three features of the new situation, which present opportunities for genuine progress toward peace.
First, in an earnest exercise of democratic rights by people denied rights, a sizeable majority of the Palestinian people has expressed their will through elections adjudged by international observers as free and fair. The vote sends a democratic warning to those in the international community who hold responsibility for the long-delayed fulfilment of international obligations to the Palestinian people.
The vote also calls for greater accountability from all authorities toward the basic needs and legitimate rights of peoplePalestinians and, inseparable from their fate, Israelis. Policy now must respond. As leaders of the churches of Jerusalem put it, they extend their co-operation to the new government “for the public good and the national Palestinian aspirations together with the cause of justice and peace in a non-violent way.” We ask you to base your policies for peace on the same firm ground and to use your good offices to ensure that other parties to the conflict do likewise.
The direction in the immediate future will depend on whether the new Palestinian leadership will include the current response of the wider international community in its calculations or focus on narrower, regional perspectives.
Second, like any newly elected government, the new Palestinian Authority needs time to position and prove itself. We urge all members of the Quartet to demonstrate constructive patience as the new Authority fills positions, develops programs, re-evaluates old policies and demonstrates new intentions. Time is also needed to discover the new balance needed for negotiations.
Third, a peace process worthy of the name will require a third party that the World Council of Churches has described as “active, determined, objective and consistent”. Our position is that the Quartet is the party needed to hold Israelis and Palestinians to equitable terms and conditions. As churches that have addressed this conflict and its implications for nearly 60 years we urge you to put a high premium on even-handedness at this critical juncture in time. To do otherwise will put peace and much else at risk, in the region and beyond.
Engagement of the new Palestinian Authority is needed by virtue of its mandate to serve the public good. Obstructionist policies, such as withholding public funds, will have grave consequences. At the human level, church-related agencies that provide medical care to the Palestinian population are already warning of immediate and acute health consequences for needy people because those who control Palestinian tax monies destined for health services are withholding funds. Indiscriminate withholding of aid will have the same effect.
On a far larger scale, hasty isolation of a government that includes Hamas over aspects of the movement’s past will further exacerbate the West’s already deeply scarred relations with the people of the Muslim world. At worst, isolation and stigmatisation become a self-fulfilling prophecy that greater political and cultural conflict lie ahead. Current incidentsfuelled by exclusionist perceptions on both sidesmake this painfully clear.
Ending double standards is an essential element of progress. If respect for existing agreements is required of one side it must be required of the other. If democracy is the key to progress in the region, this democracy will have to be given a credible chance. If violence is incompatible with democracy and with peace, it is incompatible for both the Israeli and the Palestinian authorities.
The World Council of Churches denounces all forms of violence against civilians. We strongly condemn attacks perpetrated by Palestinian groups against innocent civilians inside the State of Israel and by the State of Israel and its defence forces inside the Occupied Palestinian Territories. A signal of similar nature from the Quartet would be a sign of new balance toward the conflict and would be widely welcomed as such in many quarters.
It is urgent and timely for all parties to return to the United Nations resolutions that address the root causes of this conflict. Extremist positions have thrived in the vacuum that has developed under their non-implementation, especially because handling of peace since Oslo raised the hopes of moderate parties and then dashed them.
The international community including the Security Council and its Quartet members bear full, continuing responsibility for the effective implementation of UN resolutions242, 338, 1397 and 1515 among them. The High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention are pledged to end violations of the Convention that cause deprivation and suffering in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem. The International Court of Justice in its 2004 Advisory Opinion rendered important judgements on the illegality of the barrier wall. Ignoring these legal standards serves only to prolong the conflict.
Members of the Quartet are uniquely placed to advance the work of peace. The European Union as largest donor to the Palestinian authority should set standards for the use of funds that ensure the rights, wellbeing and improved governance of the Palestinian people. We appreciate the recent signal from European Union leadership that both parties must recognise each other and negotiate without violence.
The United Nations, guarantor of the status of Jerusalem and upholder of the principles of international law, must reassess trends in that city now that an Islamic party will represent the Palestinian people. The unique shared status envisaged for Jerusalem is gravely threatened by the unilateral actions so evident there of late.
Russia has experienced the acute suffering of a population during war and, more recently, has responded to systemic changes in the political paradigm that shapes a nation’s prospects.
The United States has through its long historical involvement gained the trust of Israel. It has a particular responsibility to help Israel find lasting security within secure and recognised borders and under the rule of law. Also, it is in the best interests of each member of the Quartet to see self-determination treated as a right to which the Palestinian people aspire, not a reward controlled by their adversary.
Public opinion in parishes and other places of concern around the world are looking to your offices for wise leadership now. There is a deep weariness with schemes that bypass the basic requirements of peace and extract a heavy toll on the two peoples who share the land.
The path to peace has indeed grown more difficult with time, yet it is still discernible. We urge you to show new movement along it now. Accompany Israeli and Palestinian leaders with courage and patience in a direction that will give their people cause for hope. We send these observations to you with the conviction that new opportunities for peace are now present. We look forward to your response.
Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia
World Council of Churches
* Letter sent by Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia to:
H.E. Dr. Condoleezza Rice Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
H.E. Mr. Javier Solana
High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy
Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union
H.E. Mr. Sergey Lavrov
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation
H.E. Mr. Agboola Gambari
Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs
UN Department of Political Affairs
H.E. Mr. James D. Wolfensohn
Middle East Quartet Special Envoy for Disengagement