by James M. Wall
The two political leaders pictured here are U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (left) and Middle East Quartet Representative and former United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The two men are walking next to a wall at the Villa Taverna, the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Rome, Italy, on May 9, 2013.
Less than a month later, Secretary Kerry spoke to the World Economic Forum in Amman, Jordan, where he introduced an initiative he hopes will break an “impasse” between Israel and Palestine.
Kerry called his initiative,“Breaking The Impasse.” He claimed that his plan would:
triple tourism to the occupied Palestinian territories, double or triple Palestinian agriculture production, increase the Palestinian GDP by 50 percent, and foster the construction of a whopping 100,000 new, energy efficient Palestinian homes in the West Bank.
Tony Blair was to be in charge of the initiative.
This is the same Tony Blair who was given an assignment to organize for peace on behalf of the Quartet, which hired him for that purpose. The Quartet is composed of leaders from the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and Russia.
We have to believe that Kerry’s “ambitious initiative” was developed on walks like the one Kerry and Blair took last month in Rome. At some point, we must also assume a staffer hauled out a dictionary to make sure the parties involved (both English-speakers) understood that an “impasse” is a “road or passage having no exit; a cul-de-sac”.
Furthermore, a “cul-de-sac”, as we all know, is designed purposely not to be broken.
Communities build residential sections with “cul-de-sacs”, a street with only one entry point. A “cul-de-sac” is designed to keep the neighborhood secure and the children safe.
The specific political”impasse” between Israel and Palestine involves an occupying military power controlling an occupied population. The only way to break a “cul-de-sac” is to turn it into a straight road, an action which Israel has shown no inclination to support.
Since “breaking the impasse” is the goal Kerry seeks, it follows that he must know the only way to end this “impasse” is to tear down the occupation wall and end the occupation.
However, in his speech at the Jordan forum, Secretary Kerry said absolutely nothing about the occupation. He also made no reference to the separation wall that both enforces and symbolizes the occupation.
What Kerry did offer were hopeful points on what capitalism is prepared to do for Palestine. Here from his text are the optimistic predictions delivered to him by experts who studied Palestine’s future:
I raised this issue with the President of China, with the Prime Minister of Japan, with all of our European leaders, and everywhere – with the Brazilian Foreign Minister a few days ago, with the New Zealand Foreign Minister. All of them have on the tip of their tongues the idea that we can make peace in the Middle East and need to, and all of them are committed to be part of this effort in order to change life on the ground.
The fact is that we are looking to mobilize some $4 billion of investment. And this team of experts – private citizens, donating their time – are here right now. They’re analyzing the opportunities in tourism, construction, light manufacturing, building materials, energy, agriculture, and information and communications technology.
This group will make recommendations to the Palestinians. They’re not going to decide anything. The Palestinians will decide that in their normal course of governance. But they will analyze and make recommendations on a set of choices that can dramatically lift the economy.
Political realism demands that all parties face the reality of the problem they seek to solve. No panel of experts can lift a derailed train back on its tracks without heavy equipment to restore the derailed train to its rightful location.
Israel has derailed the Palestinian train and has the power to maintain the derailment. Israel and Palestine are not two equal parties discussing how to resolve their differences. All of the world leaders to whom John Kerry talked, know this. Kerry knows it. Barack Obama knows it.
It is impossible to “break an impasse” without first destroying the elements deliberately put in place to support the impasse.
This failure to face reality calls to mind the same struggle which U.S. mainline denominations fought a year ago .
You perhaps recall how “horror-stricken” the organized U.S. Jewish community was when it learned that there were delegates to church conferences who demanded an end to occupation. These church delegates chose the non-violent tactic of putting economic pressure on the occupying military power by divesting church funds from U.S. businesses that support Israel’s occupation.
That same tactic helped end apartheid in South Africa when outside forces applied economic pressure on the white South African government. In 2012 Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu testified to the parallels between white South African’s treatment of its majority population and Israel’s occupational control of the Palestinians.
Fearing that the parallel between Israel and South Africa could undermine their pro-Israel campaign to replace the tactic of divestment with the softer tactic of investment, the organized U.S. Jewish community joined forces with their local church friends to denounce divestment.
They offered instead, the more positive (“can’t we all just get along”?) tactic of investing church funds in businesses that benefit Palestinians who live under Israeli military control.
Two Lutheran authors took to the pages of the Christian Century magazine to make the case for investment as the appropriate way for churches to support Palestinians.
Thomas A. Prinz, pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Leesburg, Virginia, and Karl-John N. Stone, assistant to the bishop in the Upper Susquehanna Synod (ELCA) in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, made their case by pitting “positive strategy” against “punitive options”.
Here is part of their argument, published in the Christian Century, April 26, 2012, under the title: “Investment, Not Divestment: How to Help the Palestinians”.
Encouraging economic investment in Palestine is a positive, potentially transformative strategy, and it is to be preferred to the punitive options of encouraging divestment and boycotts of Israel or of companies doing business with Israel. Boycott and divestment are focused on tearing down and punishing one side in a complex conflict rather than on promoting constructive solutions to the conflict and improving lives.
The notion that divestment from Israel will somehow make peace and a two-state solution more likely is based on the misconception that one side bears all the blame and that the actions of one side alone control the future of negotiations.
As the denominations debated the divestment-investment question, the Lutheran duo was up against Archbishop Tutu (below, right), who made it even harder on the Lutherans by citing another giant of the human rights struggle, Martin Luther King, Jr.
Tutu connected the dots in a piece he wrote for The Palestine Olive and other outlets, May 1, 2012:
Within the past few days, some 1,200 American rabbis signed a letter — timed to coincide with resolutions considered by the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA) — urging Christians not “to selectively divest from certain companies whose products are used by Israel.” They argue that a “one-sided approach” on divestment resolutions, even the selective divestment from companies profiting from the occupation proposed by the Methodists and Presbyterians, “damages the relationship between Jews and Christians that has been nurtured for decades.”
While they are no doubt well-meaning, I believe that the rabbis and other opponents of divestment are sadly misguided.
My voice will always be raised in support of Christian-Jewish ties and against the anti-Semitism that all sensible people fear and detest. But this cannot be an excuse for doing nothing and for standing aside as successive Israeli governments colonize the West Bank and advance racist laws.
I recall well the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail in which he confesses to his “Christian and Jewish brothers” that he has been “gravely disappointed with the white moderate … who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom. …”
King’s words describe almost precisely the shortcomings of the 1,200 rabbis who are not joining the brave Palestinians, Jews and internationals in isolated West Bank communities to protest nonviolently against Israel’s theft of Palestinian land to build illegal, Jewish-only settlements and the separation wall. We cannot afford to stick our heads in the sand as relentless settlement activity forecloses on the possibility of the two-state solution.
If we do not achieve two states in the near future, then the day will certainly arrive when Palestinians move away from seeking a separate state of their own and insist on the right to vote for the government that controls their lives, the Israeli government, in a single, democratic state. Israel finds this option unacceptable and yet is seemingly doing everything in its power to see that it happens.
How did that denominational struggle turn out? Episcopalians, United Methodists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans all joined forces with supporters of Israel to approve resolutions that pushed investment over divestment.
Back in the U.S., peace was restored to community interfaith dinners.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has joined forces with capitalism to enforce an injustice. In Kerry’s version of “breaking the impasse”, a version also adopted by major U.S. Protestant denominations, the U.S. will provide funding for an imprisoned people locked behind an occupation wall.
Does this mean U.S. church and state leaders have agreed to endorse injustice?
The picture at top of John Kerry and Tony Blair is from the U.S. State Department. The picture of retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu is from The Palestine Olive.