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
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
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."
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
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.