CMEP: Setting the Stage for Paris Summit

CMEP: Setting the Stage for Paris Summit

by Amb. Warren Clark, Executive Director
Churches for Middle East Peace

Here we go again.

As the clock runs down for the Obama administration, the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are heating up.

France has been trying for months to organize a meeting of foreign ministers in Paris to lay the groundwork for a regional conference with Israel and Palestine.

Israel has strongly opposed international and regional involvement. Palestine, living under military occupation, supports the idea. France and most others doubt the Israelis and Palestinians, with their asymmetry of power and deep mutual distrust, would be able to make progress towards an agreement without outside help.

The US government has been reserved about the French proposal for two reasons: first, it wondered whether the meeting could lead to real political progress in present circumstances, and second, it is reluctant to appear to let another country take the international lead on this issue. It seems Secretary of State John Kerry was finally convinced that there could be positive results to a Paris meeting if international consensus could be built for a non-binding proposed framework for an agreement on final status issues, based on the negotiations he led in 2013-14 and the parameters set out by Bill Clinton in 2000. The meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Quartet (US, EU, UN and Russia) and Arab Foreign Ministers supportive of the 2002 Arab Peace Plan for normalizing Arab relations with Israel in exchange for Israeli peace with Palestinians-delete, is now set to meet in Paris on June 3.

Elsewhere, more US Jewish leaders are saying they plan to campaign with community leaders and members of Congress to support the idea a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel, including relocation of some Israeli settlers and preparation for Palestinian sovereignty in East Jerusalem. The Democratic Party’s Platform Drafting Committee will include several politicians and leaders who actively support ending the occupation and creating a Palestinian state, including Representatives Keith Ellison (MN-5) and Barbara Lee (CA-13); Arab American Institute President (and CMEP Leadership Council Member) Jim Zogby; and academic/activist Cornel West.

Perhaps in anticipation of growing international pressure for progress towards a peace agreement, but also reflecting Israel’s restless domestic politics, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been seeking to expand his coalition and parliamentary political base. After flirting with a center-left party, he decided to include a right wing party led by Avigdor Lieberman, leaving Israel with the most conservative, nationalist government in years, with members ranging from skeptical to hostile towards the idea of a Palestinian state.

The return of Lieberman to the cabinet has worried many who fear his influence could strengthen greater political confrontation and discrimination. It gives a new urgency to address the Palestinian issue while it is still possible, even as other conflicts rage in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The April 19-20 Church Summit in Atlanta called for increased political advocacy by US churches in support of ending the occupation and increasing equal human rights. CMEP is planning a campaign to build broad support in churches this fall to encourage the Presidential candidates to pledge to work for an end the occupation, beginning in his or her first year in office.

US church members will be called upon to do their part in the months ahead regarding political advocacy to support an end to the Holy Land conflict.

Meanwhile, get your popcorn and be prepared to watch some political fireworks.