Bishop applauds start of peace talks

09 August 2013

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Hopes for peace: the US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) with Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel, who is facilitating the Israeli-Palestinian talks taking place in Washington DC

Hopes for peace: the US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) with Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel, who is facilitating the Israeli-P...

THE resumption of the United States-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks will help to ease tensions, and keep alive the hope that better days lie ahead for all in the region, the Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt Revd Suheil Dawani, has said. Speaking to the Episcopal News Service at the end of last week, he said that it was "important that there is now a serious start to the peace talks, which have been on hold for several years".

Negotiations broke down in September 2010 when Israel refused to agree to an American request to halt settlement activity in the West Bank ( News, 1 October 2010). Preliminary talks have resumed in Washington, Tzipi Livni and Dr Saeb Erekat leading the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams respectively. The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, who persuaded the two sides to reopen talks after days of shuttle diplomacy in the region, has said that he hopes that a comprehensive agreement on all core issues can be achieved within nine months.

Bishop Dawani said that for the Middle East as a whole the restart of peace talks would "provide everyone with some hope that peace is still possible. Generally, people are wearied by the constant conflict and lack of peace. They are tired of the killing and loss of life."

The Bishop said that, with peace and reconciliation, "both peoples will have a better life, where everyone can live in freedom, with equal opportunity to build their future, and to advance the well-being of their families and communities."

He said that the talks would also "help indigenous Christians, who are negatively impacted by conflict and the lack of peace and reconciliation. Our prayers are with those who are directly involved in the negotiations, that they will be successful in reviving and refreshing the two-state solution, and that a true and genuine agreement will be reached which enables both peoples to live side by side, each in a vibrant state of their own, and with peace, justice and security."

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Mr Kerry said that he had full confidence in the two chief negotiators, who had "one simple goal: a view to ending the conflict, ending the claims. Our objective will be to achieve a final-status agreement over the course of the next nine months."

The atmosphere in the initial rounds of talks was reported to have been friendly and positive, raising hopes that this latest attempt to resolve a crisis that has continued for 60 years and more might be more successful than previous ones.

But the issue of Israeli settlements is already casting a shadow over the renewed peace process. Last Sunday, the Israeli cabinet included nine Jewish settlements in a new list of communities regarded as priorities to receive government subsidies. Three of the nine were, until recently, regarded under Israeli law as illegal.

Hanan Ashrawi, a Christian and a leading figure in the Palestinian community, said that the Israeli decision would have a "destructive impact" on the new talks. She accused the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of wanting no more than "a process for its own sake", while having "a free hand to destroy the objective of the process". Israel justified the need for subsidies for the West Bank settlements on the grounds of security.

Al-Quds, an Arabic Jerusalem-based newspaper that is close to the Palestinian leadership, accused the Israeli government of agreeing to extra settlement subsidies in order to "devour new areas of land, and kill off any remaining chance of establishing a Palestinian state. It also pushes the negotiations into another fog of ambiguity and futility."

Aside from settlements, several issues, such as the future of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees, and future borders, are certain to be difficult and extremely contentious. Resolving such emotive matters in just nine months will be an enormous challenge for all concerned. On the other hand, both the Israelis and the Palestinians are realistic enough to know that the use of violence will not succeed in achieving the stability that the populations on both sides of the line long for. So, there is probably a greater sense of realism in the minds of those gathered around the negotiating table than there has been in the past.

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