UK-based international development agency Christian Aid has welcomed US President George Bush’s statement on the Middle East calling for ‘an end to the occupation that began in 1967’, referring to Israel and Palestinian lands.
Mr Bush, who made the statement on Thursday 10 January 2008 in Jerusalem, "has at last recognised that the occupation remains the main obstacle to a viable solution to the conflict in the Middle East", said William Bell, Christian Aid’s Middle East policy officer.
He continued: "We hope that this will translate into genuine pressure on the Israeli government to dismantle all the physical aspects of the occupation throughout the occupied Palestinian territories. This will be an important step towards peace if, but only if, it comes together with an agreement that guarantees the full sovereignty of both Palestinians and Israelis."
Christian Aid and other church agencies are nevertheless concerned that "Mr Bush does not appear to recognise or understand the full extent of what is required to end the occupation and ignores the fact that, for a solution to be viable and to bring lasting peace, international law cannot be ignored."
Christian Aid established in its 2007 report Israel and Palestine: a question of viability how any peace process needs to be guided by international law in order to ensure credibility and bring an end to impunity of actions that violate rights and law.
However, Mr Bush has suggested to the Palestinians that United Nations Resolutions in response to the occupation – for example Resolution 242 which emphasises the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and called for Israel’s withdrawal from territories occupied and Resolution 194 which deals with the rights of the Palestinian refugees - were not the way to help solve the conflict.
Mr Bush also reiterated his apparent concession originally made to former Prime Minister Sharon that the large settlement blocs, including those around East Jerusalem, would remain inside Israel under any peace deal. International law is clear that all these settlements are illegal. Their presence results in daily and systematic human rights violations of those Palestinians trying to get on with their daily life.
Christian Aid and partners in Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories have provided detailed analysis of how the settlements in the Jerusalem region have severely limited Palestinian access, whether economic, religious or social, to the city. Current plans for expansion in this area, seemingly unopposed by the international community, will effectively divide the West Bank into two.
"Calling for an end to occupation is positive. Calling for a selective end to occupation which ignores the legal obligations of the occupier does not help the Palestinian leadership convince the Palestinian people that this is a sincere development," said Mr Bell. "It certainly won’t have moved the 1.5 million people isolated in Gaza trying to cope with scarce food, fuel and medical supplies.
"A viable solution, one in which social, economic, political and territorial rights are universally respected and security is sought for all, requires political strength and will.
"Let us hope, for all Israeli and Palestinian sakes, that this declaration is sincere," he concluded