World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Appeal following Palestinian election

08 February 2006

Letter to the Middle East Quartet*, 8 February, 2006


* H.E. Dr Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State; H.E. Mr Javier Solana,
High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Secretary-General of the Council
of the European Union; H.E. Mr Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation;
H.E. Mr Agboola Gambari, Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs, UN Department of Political
Affairs; and H.E. Mr James D. Wolfensohn, Middle East Quartet Special Envoy for Disengagement,
Jerusalem

Your Excellency,

I write this letter to you at a critical juncture in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
We address your office with deep concern that all the members of the Middle
East Quartet work in new ways to meet the new situation emerging from last
month's Palestinian election. The World Council of Churches would commend
to you to fully exercise your responsibilities in this regard. Much now depends
on how the international community under your leadership responds, given the
increasingly broad and dangerous implications of this unresolved conflict for the
region and much of the world.

We would like to call your attention to three features of the new situation,
which present opportunities for genuine progress towards peace.

First, in an earnest exercise of democratic rights by people denied rights, a sizeable
majority of the Palestinian people has expressed their will through elections
adjudged by international observers as free and fair. The vote sends a democratic
warning to those in the international community who hold responsibility for the
long-delayed fulfillment of international obligations to the Palestinian people.

The vote also calls for greater accountability from all authorities towards the
basic needs and legitimate rights of people - Palestinians and, inseparable from
their fate, Israelis. Policy now must respond. As leaders of the churches of Jerusalem
put it, they extend their cooperation to the new government "for the public good
and the national Palestinian aspirations together with the cause of justice and
peace in a non-violent way". We ask you to base your policies for peace on the
same firm ground and to use your good offices to ensure that other parties to the
conflict do likewise.

The direction in the immediate future will depend on whether the new Palestinian
leadership will include the current response of the wider international community
in its calculations or focus on narrower, regional perspectives.

Second, like any newly-elected government, the new Palestinian Authority
needs time to position and prove itself. We urge all members of the Quartet to
demonstrate constructive patience as the new Authority fills positions, develops
programmes, re-evaluates old policies and demonstrates new intentions. Time is
also needed to discover the new balance needed for negotiations.

Third, a peace process worthy of the name will require a third party that the
World Council of Churches has described as "active, determined, objective and
consistent". Our position is that the Quartet is the party needed to hold Israelis
and Palestinians to equitable terms and conditions. As churches that have addressed
this conflict and its implications for nearly 60 years we urge you to put a high
premium on even-handedness at this critical juncture in time. To do otherwise
will put peace and much else at risk, in the region and beyond.

Engagement of the new Palestinian Authority is needed by virtue of its mandate
to serve the public good. Obstructionist policies, such as withholding public
funds, will have grave consequences. At the human level, church-related agencies
that provide medical care to the Palestinian population are already warning
of immediate and acute health consequences for needy people because those who
control Palestinian tax monies destined for health services are withholding funds.

Indiscriminate withholding of aid will have the same effect.

On a far larger scale, hasty isolation of a government that includes Hamas over
aspects of the movement's past will further exacerbate the West's already deeply
scarred relations with the people of the Muslim world. At worst, isolation and
stigmatization become a self-fulfilling prophecy that greater political and cultural
conflict lie ahead. Current incidents - fuelled by exclusionist perceptions on
both sides - make this painfully clear.

Ending double standards is an essential element of progress. If respect for existing
agreements is required of one side it must be required of the other. If democracy
is the key to progress in the region, this democracy will have to be given a
credible chance. If violence is incompatible with democracy and with peace, it is
incompatible for both the Israeli and the Palestinian authorities.

The World Council of Churches denounces all forms of violence against civilians.

We strongly condemn attacks perpetrated by Palestinian groups against
innocent civilians inside the State of Israel and by the State of Israel and its defence
forces inside the Occupied Palestinian Territories. A signal of a similar nature
from the Quartet would be a sign of a new balance towards the conflict and would
be widely welcomed as such in many quarters.

It is urgent and timely for all parties to return to the United Nations resolutions
that address the root causes of this conflict. Extremist positions have thrived
in the vacuum that has developed under their non-implementation, especially
because handling of peace since Oslo raised the hopes of moderate parties and
then dashed them.

The international community including the Security Council and its Quartet
members bear full, continuing responsibility for the effective implementation of
UN resolutions - 242, 338, 1397 and 1515 among them. The High Contracting
Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention are pledged to end violations of the
Convention that cause deprivation and suffering in the Occupied Palestinian
Territories, including East Jerusalem. The International Court of Justice in its
2004 Advisory Opinion rendered important judgments on the illegality of the
barrier wall. Ignoring these legal standards serves only to prolong the conflict.

Members of the Quartet are uniquely placed to advance the work of peace. The
European Union as largest donor to the Palestinian authority should set standards
for the use of funds that ensure the rights, well-being and improved governance
of the Palestinian people. We appreciate the recent signal from European Union
leadership that both parties must recognize each other and negotiate without violence.

The United Nations, guarantor of the status of Jerusalem and upholder of the
principles of international law, must reassess trends in that city now that an Islamic
party will represent the Palestinian people. The unique shared status envisaged
for Jerusalem is gravely threatened by the unilateral actions so evident there of
late.

Russia has experienced the acute suffering of a population during war and,
more recently, has responded to systemic changes in the political paradigm that
shapes a nation's prospects.

The United States has through its long historical involvement gained the trust
of Israel. It has a particular responsibility to help Israel find lasting security within
secure and recognized borders and under the rule of law. Also, it is in the best
interests of each member of the Quartet to see self-determination treated as a right
to which the Palestinian people aspire, not a reward controlled by their adversary.

Public opinion in parishes and other places of concern around the world are
looking to your offices for wise leadership now. There is a deep weariness with
schemes that bypass the basic requirements of peace and extract a heavy toll on
the two peoples who share the land.

The path to peace has indeed grown more difficult with time, yet it is still discernible.

We urge you to show new movement along it now. Accompany Israeli
and Palestinian leaders with courage and patience in a direction that will give
their people cause for hope. We send these observations to you with the conviction
that new opportunities for peace are now present. We look forward to your
response.

Sincerely yours,

Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia
General Secretary