The Protestant development aid programme Kerkinactie has left the national platform of Dutch peace and development organizations advocating a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - writes Andreas Havinga for Ecumenical News International.
The decision of Kerkinactie to end its membership of United Civilians for Peace (UCP) was announced on 22 December and took effect earier this week.
Kerkinactie, formerly known as Kerken in actie (Churches in action), was a founder member of UCP, set up in 2001 as a national platform of six major peace and development organizations, five of them church-related.
Kerkinactie's withdrawal from the UCP coincides with the start-up of a joint staffing structure of Kerkinactie and the Inter-Church Organization for Development Co-operation (ICCO). The new organization, known as ICCO/Kerkinactie, is referred to by the two partners as a "joint operational organisation", but it falls short of being a merger.
The synod of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands gave its go-ahead for the joint structure in November 2006 on the condition that Kerkinactie's work in the Middle East would remain apart from that of ICCO.
The secretariat of UCP is based in the offices of ICCO, which in turn are located in the national office building of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands.
The Protestant Church, which organizes some activities under the header "Church and Israel", describes its relationship with Israel as essential to its own identity and confession of faith. The church's constitution refers to its link with the Jewish people as one of "non-relinquishing solidarity".
In a 22 December 2006 statement, Kerkinactie said that the UCP initially provided information about the occupied Palestinian territories by sending observers. "These activities were very valuable in drawing attention to the situation in the Middle East." In its statement, however, it said: "In the opinion of Kerkinactie, too little attention was given to the necessity of security for all peoples in the region, including Israel itself. This caused the UCP to quickly gain the reputation of being 'one-sidedly pro-Palestinian'. This reputation means that, in the opinion of Kerkinactie, UCP cannot be sufficiently effective in its advocacy and lobbying work."
It noted: "Kerkinactie has much appreciation for the obvious dedication and integrity of UCP and for this reason has cooperated whole-heartedly in the UCP over the past years." Kerkinactie signalled that it remains willing to cooperate in future UCP projects on a case-by-case basis. Kerkinactie is the programme for missionary and diaconal work of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, the second largest church body in the country. A further 10 smaller churches and ecumenical organizations belong to it.
The UCP was founded in 2001 by the Protestant Kerkinactie and ICCO; the Roman Catholic Cordaid and Pax Christi; the ecumenical Inter-Church Peace Council (IKV); and the secular group Oxfam Novib.
[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]