written by Corinne Whitlatch, Director of Churches for Middle East Peace
Since September 28, the profound significance of Jerusalem has been
made vividly manifest. That day's 'visit' by Ariel Sharon to Temple Mount
in Jerusalem catalyzed a firestorm of violence, which has engulfed both
Palestinians and Israelis.
Sharon's intent was obvious; to demonstrate Israel's exclusive
Sovereignty over Jerusalem, and to challenge Ehud Barak, his political rival and Israel's prime minister. Barak had, just weeks before at Camp David, broached a compromise on Israel's exclusive sovereignty over Jerusalem. The conflagration started just moments after Sharon and Likud party members departed. Palestinian stone throwers were fired on by the 1,000 (or more) Israeli police (in full riot gear) who had accompanied Sharon's group.
The violence spread rapidly throughout the occupied territories and
into Israel itself, with Arab citizens taking to the streets with stones,
slingshots and Molotov cocktails. They were countered by the guns of Israeli troops.
Protests spread across the Muslim world, from Morocco to Indonesia to Kenya , as anti-Israel demonstrators took to the streets. As Iran's Foreign Minister told reporters in a visit to Lebanon on October 14, "The issue of Jerusalem is not only important for the Palestinians, but all the Muslims of the world."
Numerous attempts to quell the violence and resume direct negotiations under U.S. auspices failed. Many observers now discount the ability of the United States to continue as sole mediator. The newly elected Administration will surely re-examine the current approach to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.
During this crisis, the necessity and wisdom of opening the peacemaking talks to other international actors has become clear. To convene the Sharm el-Sheikh summit on October 17, it took Egypt's president, the King of Jordan, and the Secretaries General of the United Nations and the European Union. The U.S. did convince Israel to compromise in its insistence that only the United States could conduct an impartial fact-finding inquiry into the cause of the upheaval. That inquiry panel, named on November 7, is headed by former senator George Mitchell, but also includes the foreign minister of Norway, the former president of Turkey, and the foreign policy chief of the European Union.
The Slaughter of Sacred Cows
The American Jewish newspaper, Forward, reporting on the July Camp David summit, called Jerusalem the "prize heifer" of Israel's sacred cows. "Mr. Barak has been forced to confront a bitter truth: he can get peace, or he can keep the holy city whole, but he cannot have both, not at the same time." There had been a widely held view among Israelis and American Jews that Jerusalem's status as the "eternal, undivided capital of Israel" was not subject to compromise. That view was cast by Forward as "its favorite illusion."
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators had not even discussed Jerusalem
(designed in the Oslo accords as a final status issue) until the two-week-long
meeting with President Clinton at Camp David. Some progress was made: the
concept of sharing the city and actual proposals were raised, including
U.N. Security Council sovereignty over the Temple Mount/Noble
Sanctuary site. But the aftermath showed that the Palestinian people and the Arab countries would have rejected an agreement that Israel maintain sovereignty over that holy site and much of East Jerusalem (which, according to international law, are part of the territory occupied by Israel during the 1967 war).
The notion that the status of Jerusalem could be resolved solely through U.S.-directed bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has ended with the violence of late September.
While Sharon's visit to the Jerusalem holy site sparked the Palestinian outrage, it was fueled by the widespread perception among Palestinians that the Oslo peace process had been a ruse. It left them worse off economically, doomed to live in enclaves surrounded by Israeli soldiers and settlements, and not even allowed to go into Jerusalem without permits.
Even though Israeli soldiers no longer patrolled the Palestinian cities and villages in Area A -- those locales where the PNA has full civil and military control -- the continuation of the occupation was nevertheless evident to all. Palestinians saw the cranes and bulldozers engaged in building new houses in settlements and carving new bypass roads that would carry only Jewish travelers. The settlements, built with the stated intention of creating facts on the ground that would make impossible the return of land occupied in 1967, actually have grown more under Mr. Barak's government than under Mr. Netanyahu.
It is at the contact points between Palestinian areas and the settlements' military checkpoints where the violence most often erupts. Settlers rampage neighboring Palestinian villages: Palestinians attack individual settlers and their children in school buses.
Palestinians stopped believing in the peacemaking intentions of the Israelis. In 1999, when one family and three dogs camped at Metzpia Ha'jit, Mr. Barak called the new settlement illegal. But in July of 2000 the Israeli Civil Administration announced plans to build a tourist center at Metzpia Ha'jit. The land belonged to the Palestinian village of Deir Debwah, east of Ramallah.
It is not just the humiliation of the checkpoints or the continuing
loss of their precious land that embitters the Palestinians. There is the
matter of international law, and the historic pledge taken at the White
House in September 1993 to negotiate a permanent status agreement to implement
U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338:
* Calling for the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the 1967 war,
* A just settlement of the refugee problem, and
* The right of states (including Israel) to live in peace within recognized
The dismissal of international law by Israel, coupled with the refusal
Of the United States to demand Israel's compliance with UNSC resolutions,
Eroded Palestinian confidence in both the Oslo process and the role of the United States as honest broker.
This unwillingness of the U.S. to require Israel's compliance became even more galling as sympathy grew worldwide for the Iraqi people (suffering under U.N. Security Council economic sanctions) while the U.S. insisted on compliance by the government of Iraq.
Additionally, growing numbers of Palestinians resented the heavy hand of President Arafat and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), its numerous security agencies and the domination of the economy by quasi-monopolies controlled by the PNA. Their stifling of the Palestinian press and the Palestinian Legislative Council are well known. In December 1999, Churches for Middle East Peace wrote to the Washington representative of the PNA following the arrest of prominent Palestinians who had signed a critical public statement. That letter, in part, stated: "We encourage the PNA to regard the right of free expression of opinion, even if it is strongly critical of persons or practices, as fundamental to democratic governance."
It seemed to a great many Palestinians that the Oslo peace process (built on a strategy of interim agreements leading to a final status that would implement UNSC 242, and the establishment of an independent Palestine) had reached a dead end. Ariel Sharon's provocative tour of the gardens and plaza near the Dome of the Rock in the hallowed center of old Jerusalem set in motion the dynamics that could prove to be a turning point.
The Spiral of Violence
This popular revolt by the Palestinians differs in many respects from the intifadeh, which began in 1987 and lasted until the Madrid peace conference of 1991. Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) members were now back from exile in Tunis. Relations were strained between these 'Tunisians' and the local leaders who had emerged during the intifadeh - academics, young street fighters and scions of notable families. Security, focused on harnessing the opponents of peacemaking, became a top priority for the new PNA, who armed the various rival security agencies.
With the Palestinian arsenal of stones now including guns, Israeli troops turned to antitank rockets, grenades and helicopter gunships, resulting in a U.N. Security Council Resolution 1322 -- which condemned the "excessive use of force against Palestinians."
But it was pictures that were broadcast into living rooms everywhere that most affected the public worldwide -- of a child in Gaza shot as his father tried to protect him; of the bloody mob-killing of two Israelis in Ramallah. Nonexistent in 1987, there are now independent Arab TV stations, the PA's TV and radio stations, and CNN, which all provide dramatic coverage of the clashes. Israelis and Palestinians alike, many of whom were dedicated to peacemaking, came to doubt that hate can be overcome, that trust can ever by renewed, that peace is possible.
Another important change is the 'Hezbollah phenomena.' The campaign of ambushes and roadside bombings by Lebanon's Shiite Muslim militia against Israelis occupying southern Lebanon have provided a new model of violence for Palestinian resistance.
And for Israelis, the rapid spread of protests to Jaffa and to the Galilee
in Israel itself was stunning. The one million Arabs of Israel, bystanders
during the earlier intifadeh, protested with an intensity and in such numbers
that the hostility they feel as second class citizens is
In Tel Aviv a mob of 500 Jews attacked three Arab apartment buildings and set fire to shops. In Nazareth several hundred Jews rampaged on October 8, attacking Arab homes and shouting "Death to Arabs." When the Israeli police arrived, Arabs at the scene said the police turned on the Arabs and killed two youths.
A Dubious Honest Broker
The close relationship between the United States and Israel has been no secret. The widely accepted view has been: Only the U.S. could give Israel sufficient confidence in the negotiating process to make the compromises necessary to reach a peace agreement.
The Oslo process, conceived in direct negotiations between Israel and Palestinian leaders in Norway, and initially kept secret from the United States, quickly came under the wing of the Clinton Administration. Although great hope was given to this plan of interim agreements leading up to a delayed negotiation of final status issues, the shortcomings of the Oslo process were clear. Among them was the fact that the issues of Jerusalem, and the refugees, are very important to other Arab states and to the international community. Also problematic was the now-weakened applicability of international law, as well as the exclusion of broader international engagement in the U.S.-led negotiations between Israel and the PLO.
It seems now that the Oslo process has gone as far as it can. While the achievements have been significant, confidence in the leadership role of the United States has deteriorated to the point where U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere are now threatened by the widely held perception of its bias toward Israel.
A new formula for comprehensive negotiations is sorely needed. As a new Administration shapes its foreign policy, U.S. leadership should be directed toward enlarging the negotiating table to include others -- the United Nations, the European Union, and key states such as Egypt, Jordan and Russia. It was the United Nations that founded Israel, through the partition plan of 1947, and it's through the United Nations that real international legitimacy can be given to an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
Please send polite letters to the President, the Secretary of State and your elected representative and Senators. You will want to write to President Clinton, Secretary Albright and your current Members of Congress as soon as possible. Your advocacy toward the newly elected Administration and new members of Congress should begin as soon as they take office.
Continue your efforts to educate your community through letters-to-the-editor and talk radio programs and by encouraging programs and prayer services in your congregation and community.
In your advocacy, make the following points which are quoted from the various letters and statements of CMEP-member churches:
1. Address the personal side of the tragedy in an even-handed way: "We are saddened by the deaths and injuries of so many people, both Palestinian and Israeli, in clashes prompted largely by the dispute over the future status of Jerusalem."
2. Address the disproportionate use of force by Israel: Ask policymakers to "call upon Israel to refrain from the use of a disproportional military response to the violence." "The unconscionable, massive retaliation of the Israeli military, including indiscriminate shooting of children and adults on the street" cannot be justified.
3. Specifically note: "We oppose Israel's use of U.S.-supplied Apache and Cobra helicopters against Palestinian civilians." Call upon the U.S. government to halt the sale of new attack helicopters to Israel.
4. Remind the policymakers that: "Jerusalem realizes its vocation as holy city when there is justice and peace for all its peoples, and that therefore Jerusalem must be shared between two peoples, Arab and Jew, and among the three religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, that call it home."
5. Close with an appeal: "We urge you in the strongest terms to use whatever influence is left to you in this situation, working with the United Nations and the whole international community, to find a resolution to this conflict that is marked by justice for the Palestinian community, without which there will never be peace in the region."
President (William Clinton/George W. Bush)
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Secretary (Madeleine Albright/Colin Powell)
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC 20520
Washington, DC 20510
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515