by The Rev. Tony Higton
The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Ministry
in Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Issue 25 January 9th 2010
Ministries encourages Christians to understand and pray
about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, seeing it through
the eyes of both people groups involved, and taking the
needs, fear and pain of both sides seriously. Its director,
the Rev Tony Higton, who was Rector of a church in the Old
City of Jerusalem for a number of years, circulates this
email newsletter, speaks at seminars and encourages support
of indigenous reconciliation ministry in Jerusalem. The
is available free on request to those who add their email
address to our Newsletter update list, available on the top
of the 'Newsletter'
page. Alternatively, send your email address and name to
us via our online
Please encourage others to join the mailing list.© Tony
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE PEACE TALKS?
Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has continued to express a
willingness to talk with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
In fact, the two met for informal talks with President Obama
during the UN General Assembly, the first talks since
Netanyahu took office in March. Some commentators say
Netanyahu is concerned about a possible need to fight
Hezbollah and Iran and therefore wants peace with the
Palestinians so he is not fighting on too many fronts. Other
factors are concen about the possibility of the Labour Party
withdrawing from the coalition and the effect of Israel
becoming more isolated because of criticism of its actions
in Gaza, and particularly the report on the war in Gaza by
Judge Richard Goldstone (who is Jewish) which met with a
very negative response in Israel. The UN Human Rights
Council passed the report by 25 votes to six, 11 countries
abstained, and five countries did not vote, among them
Britain and France.
put Operation Cast Lead, the IDF invasion of Gaza, in the
context of the three-year closure of the Gaza Strip and the
Israeli policy of razing homes, arrests, interrogations and
torture, not only in the Gaza Strip but also in the West
Bank and East Jerusalem. Some Israelis asked why there
hadn’t been a report to condemn wrong actions and innocent
civilian deaths in Afghanistan or Iraq. Other Israelis
pointed out that the military action in those countries had
at least some international support. Israeli critics also
said that Hamas, which had been firing rockets
indiscriminately at civilian targets in Israel, got away
almost scot free in the report, although Goldstone accused
both sides of committing war crimes. Israel was accused of
using disproportionate force and both sides were accused of
deliberately causing civilian casualties (Hamas in its
rocket attacks on Israel). Israel claimed that the Hamas
policy of carrying out military activities from civilian
centres – schools and hospitals – was not properly dealt
initially supported the report being sent to the UN Security
Council which could have been the first step towards a war
crimes trial. But then he changed his mind, under pressure
from the US, much to the disgust of many Palestinians. The
Americans told him such a trial could seriously delay the
peace process. In the end, UN action on the report was
delayed for six months. The US, China and Russia have
declared themselves against a UN consideration of the
Goldstone report. The UN General Assembly considered the
report in November.
Abbas is demanding a complete freeze on Jewish West Bank
settlements as a precondition of serious peace talks.
Netanyahu has called for negotiations without pre-conditions
but he refused to discuss the issue of Jerusalem and the
return of Palestinian refugees to Israel in the early stages
of any talks. He has also demanded that the Palestinians
recognise Israel as a Jewish state, and he refuses to accept
the Palestinian demand that the two states be divided by the
1967 border. Later he accused the Palestinians of
deliberately delaying peace talks so that they doen’t have
to face up to the compromises they need to make.
President Shimon Peres drew up a plan for a Palestinian
state with temporary borders, but with a timetable for a
permanent agreement. His intention was that this state
should be set up in the near future. However the plan was
not acceptable to Netanyahu.
At the end
of 2009 the Egyptian Foreign Minister said that Netanyahu
was serious about restarting peace talks. He added: “I
can't talk about details, but the prime minister was
discussing positions that surpass in our estimate what we've
heard from them in a long time.” Saudi Arabia is backing an
Egyptian plan to restart the peace process which is thought
to include a commitment to a Palestinian state in two years
time and a secret Israeli commitment to a settlement freeze
in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It is also thought to
include an Israeli commitment to releasing some high-profile
Palestinian prisoners and improving conditions on the West
Bank. Arab news sources claim Obama is supporting the plan.
Netanyahu said to a group of diplomats at foreign ministry:
“I hope we have reached the time to renew the peace process.
The time for excuses is over. Now is the time for action.”
encouraging factor is that Netanyahu has shown courage over
agreeing to freeze new building in West Bank settlements.
THE ISRAELI FREEZE
of Jewish settlements has come to the fore in the last few
months. Such settlements are seen as a major hindrance to
the peace process. Hilary Clinton, US Secretary of State,
recently condemned all West Bank settlements as illegitimate
and called for a permanent halt in their construction. On
the other hand, the Central Bureau of Statistics revealed
that in 2009 new home building in the West Bank settlements
fell by one third, from 1015 to 672 compared with the same
period in 2008.
Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has led Israel to adopt a
10-month freeze on all new Israeli housing development (but
not new public buildings) in Palestinian areas, in order to
re-start the Peace Process.
influence on Netanyahu has been real concerns in Israel
about the possibility of a new intifada. People are
frustrated at the stalemate in the peace process and by the
political crises in the Palestinian leadership including a
stalemate in the negotiations between Fatah and Hamas.
is limited though. Netanyahu approved some 500 new homes
before the beginning of the freeze. Also the freeze does not
include East Jerusalem where, in November, much to the
annoyance of the US, a plan was submitted for 900 new houses
for Jewish people in Gilo, East Jerusalem. Gilo is on land
captured in 1967 and subsequently annexed to Jerusalem.
Hence the Palestinians rejected the freeze.
Abbas said that if Israel completely halts construction in
the settlements, peace negotiations on a final-status
agreement could be completed within six months.
The Americans have tried to soften Abbas’
position that there must be a total freeze.
reaction to the freeze amongst settlers has, of course, been
very negative. It is to be expected that some will take
illegal action. A small but influential minority of West
Bank settlers have a reputation for lawlessness and violent
action, harassing Palestinians and stealing land.
Unfortunately the Israeli government is seen as taking a lax
line in response to such behaviour which deepens the
controversy over the settlements.
partly because of Netanyahu’s agreement to expansion in
certain settlements that President Obama showed his
disapproval when Netanyahu visited Washington.
settlers believe Netanyahu defeated Obama who originally
called for a complete settlement freeze. The Palestinians
feel Obama has let them down by accepting the partial
freeze. Obama is not popular in Israel because they fear
his determination to end the occupation of the West Bank.
But Israel has to remember its continuing reliance on US
THE PALESTINIAN SITUATION
August the Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad
said that the Palestinians would establish a de-facto state
within two years, whatever happened in the peace talks.
However Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said
Israel would prevent that happening.
Israel is worried that the UN could recognise
such a state. Hamas has rejected the PA plan because it
accepts the existence of Israel, which Hamas does not.
However, Hamas has been taking a tough line against any
activists wanting to fire rockets into Israel.
Autumn Abbas announced he was going to step down at the next
election, set for January 25th, although the
Palestinian Authority has the power to postpone it. Hamas
has already declared the election to be illegitimate. Abbas
told Obama: “If you can’t halt the settlements why could I?”
Meanwhile the UN Office for the
Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that 75% of
Gaza inhabitants have nutritional deficiencies, 90% have
power blackouts for four to eight hours daily, 40% of those
who apply to leave for medical treatment are refused
permission by Israel and 140,000 Gazans are unemployed.
SYRIA AND IRAN
Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh has reiterated that Lebanon
will never negotiate with Israel over the return of captured
territory. Hezbollah still provides a threat to the Lebanese
Government. It is also a real threat to Israel because it
has chemical weapons and rocket capable of hitting Tel
Aviv. The Israelis claim Syria has provided much of
Netanyahu has stated he is ready to renew peace negotiations
with Syria. Syrian President Assad was positive about
indirect talks with Israel through the Turks but seemed not
to accept the idea of direct negotiations. Israel is well
aware that Syria has a standing army (not reservists like
Israel) and thousands of missiles which could hit any part
of Israel. Also the Russians are reported to be supplying
Assad with MiG fighters.
now announced it is prepared to renew peace talks with
Israel without the pre-condition of Israel withdrawing from
the Golan Heights. At the same time they accused Israel of
not being serious about achieving peace.
Iran continues its warlike stance towards
Israel and Israel is not ruling out an attack on Iran’s
nuclear facilities. The discovery of the secret Iranian
uranium enrichment facility near Qom has heightened the
tension. The Israeli Military Intelligence chief has said
Iran has accumulated enough materials to create a nuclear
bomb. Obama has told Russia he can’t indefinitely stop
Israel attacking Iran. But many feel Israel will not attack
without US support. It is too early to say whether the
current unrest in Iran will lead to political change or not,
but it does make Iran more vulnerable to sanctions.
Give thanks that
Netanyahu has stated his willingness to resume peace talks.
Give thanks for
the partial settlement freeze arranged by Netanyahu.
Give thanks that
Hamas has been discouraging missile attacks on Israel.
Pray for a
willingness to compromise in order to restart the
Israel-Palestinian peace talks.
Pray that Mahmoud
Abbas will stay on if he is the best person to further those
Pray that playing
politics and making insincere statements will not hinder the
Pray against men
and women of violence in both the settler and the
Pray for the
citizens of Gaza facing serious hardships.
Pray for peace
between Israel and Syria.
Pray for a change
of leadership in Iran so that the serious nuclear threat is
encourages Christians to understand and pray about the
Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, seeing it through the eyes
of both people groups involved, and taking the needs,
fear and pain of both sides seriously. Its director, the
Rev Tony Higton, who was Rector of a church in the Old
City of Jerusalem for a number of years, circulates this
email newsletter, speaks at seminars and encourages
support of an indigenous reconciliation ministry in
is convinced that one cannot understand Israel without
remembering the vivid and enduring memory of the
Holocaust, in the context of centuries of anti-semitism
which continues today, not least in the Arab world. They
feel that long and bitter experience shows they cannot
trust the world to protect them. Despite their military
strength, they fear extinction as a nation.Tony feels
that one cannot understand the Palestinians without
remembering their humiliation of not having their own
state and their sense of betrayal by the world powers,
not least in the re-establishment of the State of Israel
on what they regard as their land.They also feel
humiliated and oppressed by Israel. Many of them believe
that armed resistance is legitimate. Whatever their
strengths and weaknesses, God loves both people groups,
so should we.
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Charity No. 1125582
© Tony Higton
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