Thursday 8 November 2007

Praying for the peace of Jerusalem?

CCJ Middle East briefing at the House of Commons with Professor Shai Feldman, director of the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis. Joke: CNN asked on the streets of Tel Aviv for a summary outlook. One word? “Good.” Two words? “Not Good!”

Wikipedia’s List of middle East peace proposals since 1919, says “this list is incomplete. You can expand it.” But how? Looking ahead to the Annapolis Convention, what exactly could this be whenever it happens?
  1. The Crowning moment of a peace process? Lovely idea, but crowning what?
  2. An opportunity to negotiate, like Camp David? fine, but Bush ain’t no Carter or Clinton in this region, especially not post-Iraq. Post-Iraq?
  3. a Launching board for a new process phase, as the Madrid conference was? It could be, but will need careful timetabling and focus to reassure the parties they can move forward.
For what could we all focus prayers right now in the middle east?
  1. Stabilization — West Bank settlement activity ends / Palestinians end violence. Great idea. All attempts so far to do this have failed...
  2. Road Map 2 — “provisional state building” / “Comprehensive armistice” Some kind of recognition thing would be a start.
  3. Negotiate permanent status agreement — ideal, but who’s really ready for this, and how?
It would be lovely to think that Annapolis could be more than a high class photo opportunity. But how, I wondered?
  1. The cleansing of historical memory on all sides is fundamental. Competing narratives cannot be reconciled right now, not even on the level of “wie es eigentlich gewesen.” They have to be acknowledged for what they are, and how they impact the communities that hold them. Mental note to read the new edition of Benny Goodman’s analysis.
  2. The good ol’ British Army Bloody Fool theory says the other lot are just like they are because they are who they are. Because everyone is, to a certain extent, a bloody fool, it explains everything. This thinking produces designer conflicts on the TV news, which the media just feed, like they used to in Northern Ireland. Stereotypes are not enough. Just say no. Progress will only come as people, including “us”, are willing to go the second mile, imaginatively, compassionately, and rationally. This means acknowledging provisionality but not losing hope. It means assessing people’s motives in terms of their basic needs and perceptions, and refusing to create simple goodies and baddies. When tempted to settle for “they just do it because they are...” just say no.
  3. The Scriptures picture a future that is God’s, and hold out hope. It's always necessary to be realistic about others’ motives and intentions, but all forms of cynicism, including crude instrumentalism, are not enough. Everybody has legitimate needs and aspirations. How could these fit together? Religious people have a special duty, and, theoretically, special resources to cherish and model respect, imagination, compassion and understanding. Religion that doesn't do these things is just licensed insanity.

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