Something seems to be brewing out there, something new. I’ve been doing Middle East peace work, on and off, since the mid-1980s. I have never heard so many people from so many different corners of America defying right-wingers (and ultra-left-wingers) on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and saying the same things at the same time.
What do a distinguished Senator and Democratic presidential candidate, 80 evangelical Christians who love Israel, a coalition of major Muslim, Christian and Jewish religious leaders, some Arab American groups and the pro-Israel left have in common? In the last month, they have all called for the U.S. to actively pursue a two-state solution and they have spoken out–with varying degrees of specificity–against the occupation as well as Palestinian terrorism.
Item 1–Recently, under the media radar screen, Chris Dodd has been sending around a “Dear Secretary Rice” letter to his colleagues. Reliable sources tell me AIPAC is unhappy about it. Not wanting to burn bridges with a Presidential candidate and important Senator, the group has not actively opposed it. But when people call AIPAC and ask about it, they are being told that the letter is (horror of horrors!) “pro-Palestinian.” In fact, it is decidedly (also horror of horrors!) even-handed. Here is a summary from Brit Tzedek’s website, where you will find a link to the full text of the letter:
… On the Israeli side, the letter calls for a freeze on settlement construction, the dismantling of illegal outposts, and a reduction of roadblocks and checkpoints in the Palestinian territories. The letter notes the crucial significance that Israel â€œease the living conditions of the Palestinian people as a symbol of its commitment to a final settlement.â€ In light of the Israeli governmentâ€™s recently released plans to build 300 new homes in the East Jerusalem settlement of Har Homa as well as its threats to cut off fuel and electricity into Gaza, this letter could not be more timely.
The Dodd letter also reaffirms American support for Israelâ€™s right to defend itself and calls on Palestinian President Abbas to continue to denounce all terror attacks and to recognize Israelâ€™s right to exist. It further encourages Secretary Rice to strengthen the Abbas government by providing humanitarian and financial aid to the Palestinian Authority (a message echoing Novemberâ€™s Ackerman-Boustany letter in the House of Representatives).
It is possible now to put forward positions in Congress that would have gotten a Member’s head handed to him not long ago. Even if Dodd were one of the leaders in the Democratic presidential race and had more to lose, it seems reasonable to assume that he would have taken the same action. There is, a Hill insider tells me, “less terror” of calling for aggressive moves to stop settlements and remove checkpoints, as doing so does not necessarily mean the right wing hasbara brigade will target you or that AIPAC-influenced PACs and right wing Jewish individuals will pour money into your opponent’s campaign. [Note that this source says less terror, as opposed to no terror.]
Item 2–While the right-wing maximalist Christian Zionists get most of the press, other evangelicals with equally passionate ties to their Holy Land but more conciliatory views are also organizing, according to a recent post by David Neff in the Christianity Today blog:
Over 80 evangelical leaders have signed a statement indicating their belief “that the way forward is for the Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate a fair, two-state solution.”
These leadersâ€”including Christian college and seminary presidents, denominational heads, and other ministry leadersâ€”pledge their “ongoing support for the security of Israel,” and state that “unless the situation between Israel and Palestine improves quickly, the consequences will be devastating” for Israel. Palestinians with little economic opportunity “are increasingly sympathetic to radical solutions.”
[A brief excerpt from the statement]:
We believe that the principles about justice taught so powerfully by the Hebrew prophets apply to all nations, including the United States, Israel, and the Palestinians. Therefore we are compelled to work for a fair, negotiated solution for both Israelis and Palestinians. We resolve to work diligently for a secure, enduring peace and a flourishing economy for the democratic State of Israel. We also resolve to work for a viable permanent, democratic Palestinian State with a flourishing economy that offers economic opportunity to all its people. We believe that the way forward is for the Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate a fair, two-state solution.”
Now, that is not exactly bold language. But, as I understand it, most of these people are not from the left wing of the evangelical movement (e.g., the Sojourners). For all I know, some of them might like Mike Huckabee. And the contrast between them and the “don’t-yield-one-inch” fanatics like John Hagee could not be more stark, or more welcome.
Item 3–The National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East, formed in 2003, consists of major Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious leaders. Galvanized by the irrepressible Ronald Young, they came up with a policy statement in advance of the Annapolis peace talks and a similar one after the conference. Among other things, they call for U.S. support for the “benchmark ideas developed by Israelis and Palestinians over the years in official and unofficial negotiations, and reflected in public documents like the People’s Voice initiative and the Geneva Accords.” These are heavy hitters, acknowledged denominational leaders, not just individual clergy signing ads in the New York Times. And they have found a way to unite not just over lofty and general goals but at least a few specific principles.
Item 4– And then there is the American Task Force on Palestine, which I’ve noted before. This is a new and welcome phenomenon: Palestinian American two-staters who are seeking to find common political cause with the pro-Israel left, Churches for Middle East Peace and others.
None of this means that all of these disparate people have the capacity, right now, to coalesce into an effective, energized lobby for the rest of us. But it means that there is an unprecedented convergence of minds and bodies and spirits dedicated to goals that were once controversial and divisive, both in the Middle East and the U.S. That yields some hope for eventual, tangible changes in the American political landscape.