Palestinian Christians Rally for U.N. Status Upgrade

By Munther Isaac 11-28-2012
Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler

Protesters supporting Palestinian statehood confront Israeli soldiers in the West Bank village of Al-Walaja on Sept. 16.

On Nov. 29, Palestinians will bid to become a “non-member observer state” in the United Nations. If approved, this would be a major step toward full statehood for Palestinians. Israel, and perhaps more important, the United States, are against this move, not least for fear of possible war-crime investigations against Israel. Israel’s rationale has always been that a final resolution cannot be achieved unilaterally, but only through direct negotiations. Ironically, Israel achieved its own independence unilaterally and through the United Nations.

Palestinian Christians leaders have sent a strong message of support for this step. A statement signed by 100 community leaders says:

We believe the Palestine Liberation Organization’s initiative to enhance Palestine’s status in the United Nations to an Observer State is a positive, collective, and moral step that will get us closer to freedom. This is a step in the right direction for the cause of a just peace in the region. We fully endorse this bid, just as we supported Palestine’s application for full membership of the United Nations a year ago.

The bid for statehood is seen by many as a last attempt to rescue the two-state solution. In practicality, the two-state solution is as good as dead. The Israeli settlements and the separation wall cut deep into the Palestinian territories, and make it practically impossible to achieve a sovereign Palestinian state. Israel’s insistence on expanding settlements in the West Bank speaks louder than any statement about its desire to achieve lasting peace and actually undermines its own security.

At the same time, the one-state solution remains a vague concept and is very unlikely to gain approval beyond some academic circles. The Palestinian national identity is as strong as ever, evident in the wide support for the first attempt, in Sept. 2011, to obtain statehood through the U.N. The recent war in Gaza fueled Palestinian national sentiment and increased animosity toward Israel. Israel, on the other hand, does not see it in its best interest to annex the West Bank. The last thing Israelis want is a majority of Arabs in Israel. The war in Gaza likewise helped to strengthen the already hostile attitude most Israelis have toward Palestinians.

Which leaves us with the current status quo: the continued occupation of the West Bank, the siege of Gaza, and a system of separation in the West Bank that allows Israel to protect the settlements and exercise control over most of the Palestinian territories – a system that Archbishop Desmond Tutu compared to South African apartheid.

The current state of affairs is very fragile, as proven by the latest war in Gaza. The Israeli government would be delusional if it assumes that Palestinians will simply agree to remain in the present situation. The status quo will only produce more hatred and division, and can easily yield to more violence in the future. Palestinian pastor Alex Awad warned last year before the first bid for full statehood:

The danger is this: if the Palestinian Authority fails to deliver to Palestinians an independent Palestinian state due to U.S. and Israeli political maneuverings, in the near future the secular Palestinian government will surely fall and only Hamas will be left to lead the Palestinian struggle for independence. This does not [bode] well for Israelis, Palestinians, future peace talks, or for the Christian communities in the Middle East.

Despite Hamas’s somewhat surprising support for the current U.N. bid, Awad’s warning seems valid. If peaceful methods fail to achieve justice for the Palestinians, then the voices calling for a militant solution will be louder. 

All of this makes the statement by Palestinian Christians more urgent. The time has come to do right for the Palestinians. It is time to unite in support for justice through peaceful means. Palestinians deserve freedom and dignity, and any step that brings this just and moral cause forward should be endorsed.

Munther Isaac is the Vice Academic Dean at Bethlehem Bible College, a doctoral candidate at the Oxford Center for Mission Studies, and director of the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference.

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