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‘Pray for peace and security in Jerusalem’

30 October 2020

Conference held on the future of Jerusalem


A priest holds a baby as he walks in the plaza of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, last week, as Israel began to ease a second nationwide lockdown

A priest holds a baby as he walks in the plaza of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, last week, as Israel began to ease a second nationwide lockdown

THE Church should be “praying with every sinew” for resolution of the emotive issue of Jerusalem and the wider Arab-Israeli conflict in a way that provides “security for Israelis, justice for Palestinians, and peace for all”, the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, said on Monday. He was speaking on the eve of a day-long online conference on Jerusalem. Bishop Chessun is the Church of England’s lead bishop for international affairs.

“Across the board,” he said, “we should be looking to nurture shared values of equality and humanity in navigating a way forward. These should not be made subordinate to a peace plan which has sadly so palpably failed to deliver to date.”

The conference, “Jerusalem: From past divisions to a shared future?”, was organised by the Balfour Project, an advocacy group contributing to justice, peace, and reconciliation in the Middle East.

It took place against the background of further setbacks for the Palestinians: Israel’s announcement that 2000 more settlers’ homes are to be built in the occupied West Bank, and, before that, the normalisation of relations between Israel and two Arab states: the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, hailed the latter development “a new dawn of peace. . . This peace will eventually expand to include other Arab states, and ultimately end the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for all.”

But Palestinians saw it differently. The normalisation move, wrote the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Centre in Jerusalem on Twitter, “disregards the root of the conflict in the Middle East, the suffering of the Palestinian people, and their cry for a just peace”.

Before the Jerusalem conference, Bishop Chessun, who is a patron of the Balfour Project, joined other prominent church figures and more than 30 parliamentarians in signing a statement calling on the UK Government to “recognise the State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel with Jerusalem as the shared capital”.

It also urged the Government to “reaffirm publicly East Jerusalem’s status under international law as occupied Palestinian territory and oppose current systematic efforts to undermine this status”.

The other church signatories included the Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies; the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Rt Revd Dr Martin Fair; and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Clifton, the Rt Revd Declan Lang, who chairs the Catholic Bishops’ Department of International Affairs.

Speakers at the conference discussed how differences over the future of Jerusalem might be resolved. The Israeli-British historian Professor Avi Shlaim spoke of “a clash between two national movements which have found it impossible to come to terms over Jerusalem”. Great powers had also failed to promote a joint solution, leaving him to conclude that “the only way is to share Jerusalem in the context of a binational state from the river to the sea.”

The Palestinian sociologist Dr Salim Tamari recommended a fresh examination of the 1947 proposal that Jerusalem be internationalised under the United Nations.

An Israeli lawyer and founder of the NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem, Daniel Seidemann, said: “We must marginalise the religious pyromaniacs who are controlling the discourse by offering a faith-based alternative: not an interfaith effort, but cohabitation of contradictory narratives.” This would provide “a potential for religion to have a positive impact on the nature of relationships in Jerusalem. It’s not an alternative to a political process, it will not end occupation.”

But, in the absence of a process, he said, it would “offer the prospect of a modest improvement of mutual respect — something that’s stabilising in Jerusalem”, and which could, in turn, have a positive impact on geopolitics.

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