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Earlier this week, a meeting took place at Lambeth Palace in London between key representatives from the Church of England, the Catholic Church as well as the Church of Scotland on the one hand and the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his delegation on the other.
As the press release issued after the meeting (reported by Ekklesia here) expresses quite clearly, the one-hour meeting sought to underline the decades-long commitment of those Churches to the future presence and witness of the indigenous Christian communities in the Holy Land as well as to issues of peace with justice and security for all the Palestinians and Israelis who inhabit this small parcel of biblical land.
The Church leaders were addressed by PA President Abbas as well as by his chief negotiator Dr Saeb Ereikat, who touched upon the nature of the recent meetings in Amman, Jerusalem and Ramallah.
The presentations affirmed the belief of the Palestinian delegation that Palestinian Christians and Muslims are one people facing the same political challenges and that there is no difference in the thinking of the delegation between a Palestinian Muslim and a Palestinian Christian. But they also highlighted the critical nature of the standoff in the ‘peace process’ that is more about process and far less about peace.
The presentations oscillated between optimism and pessimism. It was made clear that another missed opportunity to strike a deal soon could have serious consequences in view of the whole ‘Arab Spring’ movement seeking dignity, fundamental freedoms and citizenship rights for the MENA region let alone the fact that a 44-year occupation can no longer be sustained without a breakthrough that addresses the legitimate rights, concerns or needs of both sides.
As I listened to the exchanges, two things stood out for me. On the one hand, all the polls have shown consistently that both Israelis and Palestinians support a land-for-peace deal, and yet the solution to this conflict remains as elusive as ever. Does this not show an abdication of good faith and good will by the political leaders of the region to their own peoples let alone by the international community - including ourselves as EU partners within the Quartet at the very time when the EU Heads of Mission in Jerusalem drafted a report condemning Israeli settlements and sent it to the Commission?
The other thing I felt was present in the room was the fact that whilst President Abbas and Dr Ereikat managed to give an overview of the situation both on the ground as much as round the political table of negotiations, they had no clear answer as to what the future holds in terms of hope and promise - two principal ingredients of our Christian faith.
If anything, this lack of vision, as much as an absence of the peacemaking tools that would implement a solution to the conflict, reflect sadly upon Israeli intransigence as the stronger party, Palestinian powerlessness and international helplessness.
But at the end of the day, this short meeting was not political in the proper - secular - sense of the word. It was 'church politics' (as I tend to describe such irenic efforts) and a gentle reflection of the deep-seated concern felt by our religious leaders to the inertia in this land and to the suffering of all its peoples that celebrated only recently the Feast of the Nativity.
After all, the longer things remain static, the worse they might get for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.
So I was happy to be part of this encounter, and grateful to the Archbishop of Canterbury for hosting it, but forgive me if I left the meeting with the words of the psalmist, Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee (Ps 122:6), ringing loudly, desperately and somewhat questioningly in my ears.
* See: 'Senior British church leaders meet with Palestinian president' - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/16112
© Harry Hagopian is an international lawyer, ecumenist and EU political consultant. He also acts as a Middle East and inter-faith advisor to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales and as Middle East consultant to ACEP (Christians in Politics) in Paris. He is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/HarryHagopian). Formerly an Executive Secretary of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Committee and Executive Director of the Middle East Council of Churches, he is now an international fellow, Sorbonne III University, Paris, consultant to the Campaign for Recognition of the Armenian Genocide (UK) and author of The Armenian Church in the Holy Land. Dr Hagopian’s own website is www.epektasis.netTweet