Israel to Palestine: “You are Damned if You Do, and Damned if You Don’t”
NEW YORK - Nov. 3, 2011 - The Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA)* (IPMN) condemns the announcement by the Israeli government to accelerate expansion of settlement construction and financially sanction the Palestinian Authority as a response to the successful bid by its leadership to join UNESCO this week. The IPMN calls upon President Obama to take a clear, public stand against this decision because it threatens any hope that peace negotiations can occur between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in the foreseeable future.
By this action, Israel’s intentions have become quite clear: It will expand settlements when the Palestinians are at the negotiating table; and, it will expand settlements when they are not at the table. With this move, Israel is taking away the legitimate choice all peoples have of seeking relief within the appropriate international structures dedicated towards global community and peace building. In addition, in light of reports by Israel’s own generals that the Palestinian Authority has played a major role in reducing extremist violence, it is absurd to cut off funds to an official Palestinian entity that is helping to achieve nonviolence inside the pressure cooker of Israeli apartheid.
Historically, in regard to settlement building, the facts cannot be disputed: Israel has been expanding them at break neck speed under the leadership of every one of its prime ministers since the Six-Day War in June 1967. The pace has even accelerated following the breakdown of the Oslo Accords in 1993. Israeli historian, Gershom Gorenberg has pointed out why settlement expansion, and not peace negotiations, is the top priority for Israeli leadership: “What we’re seeing is a classic example where a diplomatic initiative has the effect of accelerating settlement construction. When there is a fear or suspicion that a diplomatic process might actually take place…there is a tendency among settlement supporters within the government to try to speed things up.”
Complicating matters is the recent announcement by the United States State Department to withhold $60M from UNESCO, as dictated by U.S. law (1990 & 1994) requiring the withdrawal of financial support from any U.N. entity that admits Palestine into its membership. Senator Tim Wirth (D-CO) described what is at stake as a result of this decision: “The United States is on the brink of abandoning its decades-long leadership in several international organizations—a process that will fundamentally undermine American national security and economic interests… UNESCO leads global efforts to bring clean water to the poor, promotes educational and curriculum building in the developing world, and manages a tsunami early warning system in the Pacific, among other important tasks.”
The Palestinians will be applying for membership in all 16 U.N. agencies in the coming months. These include the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). If these U.N. agencies vote to admit Palestine as UNESCO did so overwhelmingly, will the United States continue to withdraw its support in a time when its leadership in such areas is so greatly needed? Will the United States actually find itself in the position of sabotaging efforts towards global stability and well-being because of its indefensible, parochial view that Palestine can only seek terms of a just peace through the methods or channels the U.S. has approved? Will the U.S. stand against Palestinian membership in U.N. agencies just to satisfy Israel even at the cost of U.S. interests elsewhere in the world?
The Israel Palestine Mission Network regrets that an effort by Palestinian leadership to work within the structures of the greatest international peacekeeping and peacemaking body in the world can lead to even more isolation of Israel and the U.S. and further undermine peace, security and justice not only in the Middle East but globally. The network calls upon all Christian, as well as interfaith bodies to contact our national leadership at every level to make our financial and military aid to Israel contingent upon an immediate halt to the building and expansion of illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
*Established by action of the 2004 General Assembly, the IPMN seeks to demonstrate solidarity, educate about the facts on the ground, and change the conditions that erode the humanity of both Israelis and Palestinians, especially those who are living under occupation in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. The network speaks TO the Church not FOR the Church.