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On peace in the Holy Land: an interview with Bishop Shomali
After his speech at the AIPAC meeting (the Pro-Israel lobby in the United States) on Monday, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister, then spoke to the U.S. Congress on Tuesday, and all of this only a few days after a public disagreement with President Barack Obama on the peace process. Bishop William Shomali, Auxiliary Bishop of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories, reflects on what the American President and the Israeli Prime Minister said.
1. What is your analysis of the speeches of U.S. President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu?
There was a lot of expectation surrounding the speech by President Obama articulating the American position and attitude with regard to the Peace Process. America has a great deal of influence on the future of peace in the Holy Land. The U.S. President stated an important point: the Palestinians are entitled to the 22% of territories occupied by Israel in 1967. He also said that peace depends on the withdrawal of Israel from these territories to make way for a Palestinian State.
He added that there is an opportunity for an exchange of territories between the two peoples, between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Already, these premises are very important for peace and go hand in hand with the two 1967 UN resolutions (2.4.2 and 3.3.8). For me, the speech of President Obama – limiting ourselves for the moment to this point – is very, very positive. It gives us a lot of hope. It must be said though, that in his follow-up speech to AIPAC, the U.S. President seemed to take a step back from these statements. This hesitancy in the American position hardly contributes to peace.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a much-applauded speech before the assembly of the U.S. Congress. He limited his reflections to underlying the position that Israel is a state for Jews. Building logically from this premise, he drew the following conclusions:
• There can be no withdrawal to the 1948 border since all of Palestine belongs to the Jews.
• There can be no place for returning refugees in Israel as this would threaten the Jewish character of the state of Israel.
• Jerusalem must remain a Jewish city: the eternal and undivided capital of Israel.
In fact, the speech of the Israeli Prime Minister was very consistent with Zionist ideology. Nonetheless, just by his framing the issues in this way that he only serves to widen the “cultural gap” that already exists between the Israelis and Palestinians. I dare say an “ideological divide.” Prime Minister Netanyahu clearly expressed what he thinks. Before we had to more or less guess, now we know, he said it clearly. My sense is that peace has become even more distant.
2. What will be the consequences of the Hamas/Fatah reconciliation?
Hamas is an ideologically based organization. So, with them, you end up in the “same boat” as we see with Netanyahu, the same ideological divide between the two camps. Hamas lacks flexibility. Before you can ask Mr. Netanyahu to be more flexible, Hamas will have to demonstrate this same quality. If each becomes more rigid in their respective positions, peace will recede into the indefinite distance. Hamas should at least recognize that Israel has the right to exist with its 1948 borders. This is the same as saying that 22% of the Territories would remain under the Palestinians. So by that very fact of recognizing Israel’s right to exist on 78% of the Palestinians Territories, Hamas would then also be marking the recognition that the remaining 22% devolves to Palestinian control. I hope and pray that Hamas be more flexible.
3. And the role of Christians in the Holy Land in the Peace Process?
First, we Christians understand both positions. We understand the need to have a Palestinian state on 22% of the contended territories. Besides, the world shares this idea, even the U.S.. It is not just a Christian idea but an international one. It must provide for two viable states with mutually defined and secure borders. A Palestinian state and an Israeli state existing side by side in peace – this would be like a dream; a dream that will have to become a reality. We understand that Israel also will need to enjoy a secured peace. Israel is a small country of 20,000 km2 surrounded by Arab and Muslims countries. I understand very well. Christians must recognize that they can be a bridge in the existing “clash of cultures.” They also keep in mind the importance of recognizing Palestinian rights. And they recognize the historically strong links that exist between the Holy Land and the Jews.
Secondly, I think peace is possible if everyone can give a little bit of slack in their respective rigid positions. It is indeed possible to reach a compromise that deserves international legitimacy. Our role as Christians is to affirm the legitimate needs of both parties, and to state clearly that peace is possible.
Third, in addition, we can support this position by the prayer of faithful, and by this I mean by all of the faithful, Jews, Christians and Muslims. I say with this full awareness of the meaning of my words. A sincere prayer is stronger than all the speeches of the politicians put together. We must continue to pray even if the results are not seen for another five or ten years. That is but little in the eyes of the Lord.
Interview by Christophe Lafontaine
Video editing: Alban Vallet
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