WASHINGTON — Over 200 people attended the Capitol Hill event last Thursday, “Digesting Annapolis: What Happened, What it Means, and What Happens Next?” co- sponsored by Churches for Middle East Peace, together with Americans for Peace Now, the American Taskforce on Palestine, the Arab American Institute, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, Israel Policy Forum and the Foundation for Middle East Peace. The packed crowd in the Rayburn House Office Building hearing room included staff from the House and Senate, the State Department, foreign embassies, DC think tanks, and media organizations, as well as the general public. The panel included a current Palestinian negotiator, former Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, an expert on negotiations from the U.S. Institute of Peace, an Israeli-American journalist along with a former U.S. diplomat as moderator. A video of the event is now available online. The mix of cosponsoring organizations — Arab American and American Jewish groups along with Churches for Middle East Peace — was highlighted by the speakers as a reflection of the great difference between the climate surrounding Annapolis in 2007 and preceding peace initiatives. There is now a strong and persistent coalescence among like-minded organizations, and the people they represent, that is having an impact on the Congress and the administration. Senate resolution 321 introduced by Senators Feinstein and Lugar as well as the House letter co-signed by Representatives Ackerman and Boustany are evidence of an emerging openness among policymakers toward the kind of constructive initiatives supported by this broad based group of organizations. Awareness is growing in the halls of Congress that Israeli-Palestinian peace is a matter of vital interest to the United States. The main significance of the Annapolis peace meeting lies not in the statements and speeches, but in the real opportunity that the initiative has created for peace. The shortcomings of the Annapolis meeting, in its last-minute organization and shifting objectives, are well-known and reported widely. Nevertheless, it is the official re-launching of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians after seven years of avoidance. And, it is only by means of a negotiated agreement between Israelis and Palestinians that the two state solution to the conflict, that establishes a viable Palestinian state and a secure Israel, can be reached. The instrumental role of the United States, only seen in fits and starts since the Bush Administration took office, is now in place with Secretary Rice’s deeply personal commitment seemingly backed by the president. The opponents of this two-state solution are many and vocal in their critique of the Annapolis meeting and the intentions of one party or the other. Too often, critics play upon passionate hatreds and hidden agendas in efforts to undercut negotiations and negotiators. The Jerusalem Connection, which casts itself as “a voice for Christian Zionism” called the meeting “The Diplomatic Lynching of Israel.” There are virulent forces — some who claim allegiance to Israel and some who champion Palestine — who are wedded to a view that time is on their side, that by resisting any and all concessions their party can eventually have it all. Meanwhile, the conflict continues and all are denied the opportunity of a life of peace with hope for their children’s future. Those Americans who do support peace between Israelis and Palestinians have a weighty responsibility to push and pull our elected officials and diplomats to implement the plans agreed to in Annapolis and sustain the intense diplomatic engagement that will be necessary. It is important to recognize and not deny the very difficult problems that stand in the way of accomplishing a negotiated agreement that ends Israel’s occupation, establishes Palestinian independence and results in a comprehensive Arab-Israel peace that brings Israel security and recognition. It’s long been said that the dimensions of a political solution to the conflict are well known, that it is the political will that has been lacking. Each of the reluctant, and politically weak, leaders — Bush, Olmert and Abbas — will require encouragement from their own people and will be strengthened by assurance that the common good, which can exist only in peace, is the shared goal. As post-Annapolis diplomacy unfolds, CMEP will be raising concerns and cautions with the administration, will be urging Congress toward constructive actions and calling upon you to weigh in with timely advocacy. CMEP’s role, and yours, is to express the churches’ longstanding commitment to peacemaking and to help provide those necessary commodities — moral courage and political will. Our concern should not be predicting whether the Annapolis process will fail or succeed but doing everything that we can to make it become the vehicle for a just peace. We were especially encouraged on Friday to receive a statement signed by 80 Christian evangelical educators and ministry heads that calls for a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. The signers write, “The Bible clearly teaches that God longs for justice and peace for all people. 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.” We are grateful for the many allies who join us in supporting Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. Together our collective voices can help make Annapolis count. Be assured that CMEP’s Arab American and American Jewish organizational colleagues will be our partners in advocacy here in Washington, and their members in your community will be reinforcing your advocacy.
Formed in 1984, Churches for Middle East Peace is a Washington-based program of the Alliance of Baptists, American Friends Service Committee, Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Armenian Orthodox Church, Catholic Conference of Major Superiors of Men’s Institutes, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Church of the Brethren, Church World Service, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Franciscan Friars OFM (English Speaking Conference, JPIC Council), Friends Committee on National Legislation, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Maryknoll Missioners, Mennonite Central Committee, Moravian Church in America, National Council of Churches, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, Unitarian Universalist Association, United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church (GBCS & GBGM). Contributions to CMEP are tax deductible and can be made by check or online by secure, on-line credit card service.