Churches for Middle East Peace
110 Maryland Ave. NE, Suite 108, Washington DC 20002    202/546-8425

The Outlook for 2000
by Corinne Whitlatch, Director
(Published by the Presbyterian Church (USA) Stewardship of Public Life Program)
January 13, 2000

In this year of the millennium, the eyes of the world turn to Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem - the land of Jesus Christ.   As Christianity celebrates and reflects on the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus, we pray that modern-day negotiators will work to transform the vision of peace in the Holy Land into reality.  In our age, peacemaking is not only the task of the appointed negotiators, but also the task of ordinary Palestinians and Israelis and even of those citizens of the United States who engage in advocacy and formulation of public opinion.

The Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem issued from Bethlehem on December 4 a message that offers guidance to Palestinian Christians and to the whole world.  They write: "May we, on the way of peace, bring about justice and peace, according to the word of our Lord: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God' (Mt.5:9). We desire that our societies be established on the basis of justice and equality in rights and duties." The coupling of justice with peace by Jerusalem's patriarchs and bishops will serve well as a beacon for our advocacy during the year ahead.

JERUSALEM AND FINAL STATUS NEGOTIATIONS: The long-awaited and often-delayed negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians over the issues of Jerusalem, settlements, resources, refugees, and borders are underway.   With the year 2000 also being a Presidential election year in the United States, the potential is high for false prophets and a false peace as candidates pander for Jewish votes and campaign support.  As has often been the case, Jerusalem is likely to be the focal point for these political games.

Some members of Congress are expected to try to pass legislation similar to the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 mandating a move of the embassy to Jerusalem.  The 2000 legislation, if passed, would take away the Presidential waiver authority that has so-far been used to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv. For church-based peace advocates, Jerusalem's current situation and future status must continue to be the highest priority issue.  The Jerusalem leaders, in their December  message, give a clear guideline for peacemakers in negotiating Jerusalem's future.  They write, "Jerusalem is the heart of either warfare or peace.  We would see the same sovereignty given to our two peoples and three religions in Jerusalem, with the same rights and responsibilities, and a special status for Jerusalem in order to guarantee all the historical rights of the churches ... "

The September 2000 deadline for a permanent Israeli-Palestinian agreement set by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak can be successfully reached only if Mr. Barak loosens the hard lines he has drawn on the issues of Jerusalem, the rights of refugees and Israeli settlements.  On the other hand, if at the end of an accelerated timetable Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat agrees to a Palestinian state with too little territory and too many opponents among the Palestinian people,  the conflict will erupt again in both new and familiar ways.  Some predict a final status agreement will be signed which uses interim agreements to forestall for even longer the most contentious final status issues.

ISRAEL/SYRIA/LEBANON:   2000 is also slated as the year for Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon and the bilateral agreements that would officially end the Arab-Israeli conflict. As 1999 waned, President Clinton persuaded Israeli and Syria leaders to come to Washington and renew the talks that broke off in early 1996.  At the new year's beginning, it is possible to see an agreement between Israel and Syria and a subsequent agreement with Lebanon.  Some members of Congress, who seek to block Israeli withdrawal from occupied land, have already raised objections to the participation of U.S. soldiers  in a Golan peacekeeping force. An Israel-Lebanon agreement will also bring to the forefront the extremely difficult issue of Lebanon's Palestinian refugees.  Those refugees and Lebanon's President Emile Lahoud insist that they be allowed to return, as stipulated in U.N. General Assembly resolution 194, to their homeland in what is now Israel. If their grievances are not addressed, the 300,000+ dispossessed Palestinians in Lebanon could de-stabilize the border as well as an Israel-Lebanon agreement.

FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE: The refugee issue, which has been dormant during the focus on "land for peace" matters, will become paramount in the years immediately ahead.  The United States and other international donors  will be expected to fund the implementation of  agreements reached on the refugees' future.  Congress has erected numerous barriers to improving relations with Syria or the offering of carrots for peacemaking.   Despite assurances told Israel in November 1999 that it will not remove Syria from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, it is likely that the Administration will move to do just that.  This would open the way to end the congressionally mandated restrictions on diplomatic and economic ties with Syria. With the Israeli-Syrian track revived, Congressional appropriators can expect additional hefty requests for economic and military assistance from Israel.  The increase to the already grossly disproportionate amount of U.S. foreign aid that is earmarked for Israel and its negotiating partners may receive a more critical appraisal from Congressional appropriators in 2000.

SANCTIONS ON IRAQ: The year 2000 begins with Iraq still under both the authoritarian rule of Saddam Hussein and the most comprehensive-ever sanctions.  Meanwhile, after nine years of sanctions,  the Iraqi populace is reeling from the consequences of the destroyed infrastructure and economy of their country.  Efforts to reinstate arms control inspections have not been successful due in part to the heavy hand of U.S. policy which is resisted by Iraq and some of the U.N. Security Council members.  It is likely that Americans will become increasingly critical of the Administration's failed policy, especially of the near daily bombings of north and south Iraq by the Clinton Administration and Britain.

IRAN and TURKEY:  The Middle East has historically been influenced by its two non-Arab neighbors - the great powers of Persia and the Ottoman Empire.  In 2000, these now modern states of Iran and Turkey are again exerting powerful influence on the region. The friendship of the U.S. with Turkey, undergirded by U.S. arms sales and the use of Turkey's military bases, is being replicated by Israel's growing military relationship with Turkey.   The Arab states will be watching carefully how Turkey and Iran deal, in very different ways, with the dynamic Islamic movement that touches every state in the region.  Despite the warming of rhetoric, the relationship between the United States and Iran enters the year 2000 with the breach continuing – no diplomatic relations, Iranian support for opponents of the peace process, and new U.S. arms sales to the United Arab Emirates evidently intended for use against Iran. Also troubling are the implications of the pro-Israel lobby's efforts to bring Congressional action against Russia for its assistance to Iran.

THE ABRAHAMIC FAMILY: The Jerusalem leaders, in their December 4 message, provide us with a resolution for the new year.  "We have lived together since the seventh century, and we Jews, Christians and Muslims share the faith of our father Abraham, father of the prophets.  Today our history is in our hands. Therefore let us construct it according to the chant of the angels in the skies of our land: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will."