World churches chief urges Annapolis to stay on course for peace

World churches chief urges Annapolis to stay on course for peace

By staff writers
27 Nov 2007

Good faith, multilateral participation and adherence to the rule of law are essential if the Annapolis Middle East Conference starting today (Tuesday 27 November 2007), is to be a success, World Council of Churches' general secretary Dr Samuel Kobia has written to the key participants.

The WCC, which brings together key Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and indigenous churches, and cooperates extensively with the Roman Catholic Church, has long advocated a two-state solution for the security of both Israelis and Palestinians in the region's defining conflict.

The full text of the letter to US Secretary of State Dr Condoleezza Rice, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, reads as follows:

Geneva, 26 November 2007

Your Excellencies,

Holding a major meeting related to peace in the Middle East is an event of potential importance. We would like to commend you for your efforts in this regard.

The meeting this week in Annapolis takes place in a period when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is having increasingly negative impacts locally and globally. A new initiative that demonstrates its relevance to a just peace between the peoples of Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories would be welcomed around the world.

As this initiative is set to begin we would like to suggest three criteria for success based on 60 years of international church advocacy for peace in this conflict.

Good faith negotiations are the first criterion. The crux of the problem -- the final status issues -- will not yield without sustained and robust good faith negotiations by all sides. Experience has shown that the tactic of avoiding, delaying or diluting final status issues has lost all utility and credibility in peace initiatives to address this conflict.

Second, negotiations must recognize and involve those parties with legitimate interests at stake in the solution to the conflict. From the earliest possible juncture, peace negotiations must include their representatives in a meaningful and appropriate manner. The participation in Annapolis, now confirmed, of some states in the Arab Peace Initiativeis an essential opening in this direction. The process you launch this week must be genuinely multilateral in order to advance the cause of peace.

Third, scrupulous adherence to the international rule of law is essential. Any agreement or process that you entertain will be judged against United Nations Security Council Resolutions and the treaty obligations of the parties involved, international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

These legal standards are the foundations of peace, as the international community has affirmed again and again through the United Nations and through international organizations of civil society including the World Council of Churches. Similarly, the specific United Nations Security Council resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are the architecture of peace. These include UNSCR 242, 338, 1397 and 1515, and UN General Assembly Resolution 194 on the question of Jerusalem and refugees.

Also, during negotiations, the negotiating parties' behaviour in Israel and the Occupied Territories must be governed by the same body of international law. Early action on ending the isolation of Gaza and the collective punishment of its 1.5 million residents, stopping attacks on civilians of either side, releasing prisoners denied due process on both sides, freezing all settlement growth of any kind, ceasing land expropriation, stopping work on the separation barrier, opening negotiations about the Occupied Golan Heights, and other well-known steps will empower the Annapolis process if implemented and will hobble and weaken it if not implemented. Such steps will also signal the level of good faith behind the Annnapolis process -- making reconciliation between the main Palestinian political groups, Fatah and Hamas, eminently more feasible.

We especially commend the US administration for using its convening power to bring parties to the meeting. We would submit that negotiations based on good faith, on multilateral participation and on the rule of law will require the US administration not only to convene, but also to ensure that the final agreement preserves the indivisibility of justice for Palestinians and Israelis.

It is critical to respond to the reality that negotiations with similar intentions in the past have been counter-productive, allowing the occupation to continue and intensify. Among the causes were the repeated failures to address core issues and to see those issues through in good faith to an equitable resolution. To meet and fail in the same manner yet again is, we believe, deeply and dangerously irresponsible at this point in the history of the conflict.

It is our fervent hope that the lessons learned in past peace processes will give you courage and perseverance. We are praying that steps taken now will serve to bring a just peace closer for both the Israeli and the Palestinian people. As people of faith and as fellow human beings, we are concerned for their future and wellbeing. We know that, despite decades of conflict, many Israelis and Palestinians yearn for peace and are ready to follow leaders willing to pay the high price of peace. We believe, as Christian scripture says, that all those who work for peace will indeed be blessed.

Yours sincerely,

Rev Dr Samuel Kobia
General Secretary, World Council of Churches (WCC)

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