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Christianity Today Published Articles Religious Freedom

Like ‘Water on a Stone’: UN Expert on the Hard Work of Religious Freedom

Image: United Nations
Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief

Religious freedom requires global consensus.

Despite the best efforts of the Trump administration to prioritize the issue in its foreign policy, the Pew Research Center highlights that government restrictions on religion have hit an all-time high worldwide.

In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights included clear language on religious freedom, including the right to change one’s religious affiliation. But it was not until 1981 that the UN issued its Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.

Declarations are of little value without accountability.

In 1986, the UN created the position of Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB). And in 2006, it created a process called the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), in which nations report on their human rights development every 4.5 years and are required to address the recommendations of the global community.

Ahmed Shaheed, the current special rapporteur, was appointed in 2016 after serving six years as the UN human rights watchdog on Iran.

Formerly a foreign minister of the Maldives, Shaheed was declared an apostate from Islam in his home nation following his efforts to restore democracy and advance human rights.

Prior to this month’s third Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, CT interviewed Shaheed in April as COVID-19 upended the world about recent American efforts to advance international religious freedom (IRF), the balance involved with gender equality, and the best methods to secure the right to religious conversion in the Muslim world:

How has COVID-19 impacted global freedom of religion and belief?

The pandemic is unprecedented in how it is impacting everyone.

As special rapporteur, I have issued three statements so far. The first concerned the cremation of bodies of those who died from the virus—can it be made compulsory, and can relatives attend? Religious practices can be limited to some extent during a time of public health emergency, but I wanted to remind the authorities of their obligations under international law and to be respectful of religious and cultural beliefs within the law.

The second statement was on hate speech targeting minority Christians, Jews, and Muslims. They have been scapegoated and attacked with conspiracy theories claiming they are the ones who spread or even originated this virus. And besides scapegoating, in some cases they were denied access to health care facilities.

The third statement raised alarm specifically on anti-Semitism, which was spiking across the globe.

My statements also highlighted the role that faith-based communities can play at this critical time, in terms of virtual pastoral care and the preservation of community cohesion. And I have applauded how most religious leaders have responded to the humanitarian and socio-economic challenges we have witnessed.

Many American evangelicals have been supportive of the Trump administration’s advocacy for international religious freedom. From your perspective, has it created an atmosphere where there is greater worldwide respect and attention, or has it politicized the issue and been detrimental to the global cause?

I look at US policy in a comprehensive fashion, and not just the president’s remarks. The State Department’s IRF report—covering every nation in the world—and the work of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) have played an invaluable role over the years. I’m happy that the Trump administration…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on November 16, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Prayers

Lebanon Prayer: Special Tribunal

God,

Fifteen years, waiting for justice.

A verdict: One guilty, three acquitted. No conclusion on the powers behind them.

Who assassinated the former prime minister? He did. But who else? Investigations proved a wide conspiracy.

And he is not talking. He is not even here. A Shiite party shields him from trial.

A Shiite party called it politicized, and would ignore the outcome.

A Shiite party—with Syria—were the powers of ‘no conclusion’.

So is it concluded? A Sunni party of the murdered prime minister vowed not to rest until the guilty are punished. Finally, there is a guilty.

They called on the Shiite party to make unspecified ‘sacrifices’.

Many in Lebanon have moved on, God. There have been numerous tragedies since then.

But what hope does the verdict in the last big explosion, give to this one?

Many are resigned. Many are leaving. Many say, ‘This is Lebanon’.

But is this time different? America says no aid until reform. Is it right to starve into solution?

Or is this time the same? Certain parties scuffled in political disputes. Is it right to scare into submission?

Fifteen years is a long time.

Thirty years since the civil war.

One hundred since existence.

What do you wish to summon from the Lebanese? Hope is hard to conjure.

Resolve? Fight? Wrath?

Is lament too passive? Is contrition too hard?

God, can you invite blessing? So many cannot even contemplate.

But so many are not needed. Let two or three agree.

Then loosen.

Shake free their chains, for three or four.

Let four or five plead on behalf of the nation.

Then five or six can pour out grace on them all.

Maybe six or seven can be healed.

Perhaps seven or eight can heal someone else.

Eight or nine could confront injustice.

Nine or ten could sweep the streets.

Ten or eleven might make a difference.

Eleven—or twelve—can change the world.

Even if one betrays. Even if one denies.

There are those who betray Lebanon, God. They choose their selfish interests. Restore them in repentance.

There are those who deny Lebanon, God. They trust only their own sect. Remove their fear, and reconcile.

Their numbers are many.

Let the few, bless.

And then multiply blessing, to draw many more.

God, twelve can be a tribunal. Lebanon is in the dock.

It is guilty, of course. All are, every nation. Evidence is overwhelming.

But your trial is not political. It is merciful.

Let these twelve proclaim your forgiveness.

Then God, loose in heaven.

Lebanon is a paradise of your creation. Let the people live it so.

Amen.


Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.

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Prayers

Friday Prayers for Egypt: United Nations

Flag Cross Quran

God,

Significant things happened within Egypt this week. A prisoner was acquitted after four years detainment. Two churches reopened after security concerns. Police station spot inspections were begun by parliament.

But the president was in New York at the United Nations, significantly negotiating the path of the nation.

He earned praise for helping un-divide the Palestinians. He urged better coordination in combatting terrorism. He signed memorandums on illegal migration. He lobbied for increased foreign investment.

He took his place on the world stage, mingling with world leaders.

Interests govern foreign affairs, God. But relationships can make a significant difference.

So does domestic policy. Help Egypt do what is right by her own people.

But in the world, give the president grace. In precarious times, help him balance sovereignty and support. Help him challenge allies, and win over foes.

Help him represent Egypt.

It is a significant task, God, but in your sovereignty, support him. Of the people, and for them, challenge, and win over.

Amen.

 

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Prayers

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Corruption, Resolution

Flag Cross Quran

God,

As Egypt made one statement, it deferred on another. May wisdom couple with pragmatism, but only where is right.

An official at one of the nation’s highest courts was exposed for taking bribes. As his case was paraded in the media, the extent of corruption is not yet clear.

But the president took occasion to renew the call to clean the system, asking that all be held accountable.

May it be so, God. Establish the systems necessary to create the fear of stepping out of line. And in conjunction, develop the integrity necessary that it might not be considered.

In process, move anti-corruption efforts from the spectacular to the mundane. Equip a cadre to ferret out irregularity. Expand their influence to change a culture.

And protect them, God. From without, from any enemies created. From within, from the enemy of the soul. How easily they themselves could be corrupted. How easily their work might manipulate in turn.

So as Egypt reaches out to assist those troubled by the economy, may it reach the needy at every level.

Support has been extended not only to the poor, but to struggling tourism facilities in need of renovation and to import-dependent businesses in fear of bankruptcy.

Meanwhile internationally, it is Egypt who stands in need of support. Keep her honorable in the pursuit thereof.

After raising a resolution at the UN against Israeli settlements, Egypt withdrew it in deference to Trump. She later voted in favor of a multi-national resolution she did not join in sponsoring.

Some say she buckled in support of the more needy Palestinians. Others say she brokered favor with the strong while not abandoning a principle.

God, decipher motivation and judge accordingly. But help Egypt to be true, and support her if she is.

For Egypt has also taken complicating positions toward Syria and Yemen. She dances with Saudi as the disputed Red Sea islands remain in court. She must resolve tourism issues with Russia and Britain. America gives millions in military aid; Israel is essential in border control.

God, give Egypt resolution. Free her from corruption.

Help her to wade through troubled waters with her head held high, with the confidence that comes only from uprightness.

Wisdom, God. Pragmatism, too. Peace, justice, prosperity. May they come in their fullness, and soon.

Amen.

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Prayers

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Journalism, Rights Review

Flag Cross Quran

God,

Eyes were on Egypt this week, from inside and outside, to hold her accountable. May she be worthy and exceed all standards.

But some do not think so. Offended by their editors-in-chief, 400 Egyptian journalists signed a petition protesting media pledges to not undermine the government.

And in advance of a periodic human rights review by the United Nations, a consortium of NGOs and activists put forward several recommendations where they believe Egypt falls short.

Many in the UN criticized, while Egyptian officials defended their policies.

God, weigh between them, but only for good. May their disputes lead to dialogue and then to development.

Bless journalists for the courage of their convictions. Bless editors for their support of their nation. But keep the former from muckraking and the latter from sycophancy. Help the truth to be told with all transparency.

Bless activists for their dedication to human rights. Bless officials for application in difficult times. But keep the former from distortion and the latter from misrepresentation. Help life to be lived with all dignity.

But where there is fraud or injustice, God, root it out.

May those inside and outside both contribute. Make Egypt accountable, above all to your standard.

May all eyes find her worthy.

Amen.

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Prayers

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Prison Conditions

Flag Cross Quran

God,

Reports have been ample from Egyptian prisons with accounts of mistreatment, even torture. And this week smuggled video purported a look inside, picturing squalid conditions and cramped quarters. The government denies the veracity of these sources, insisting that after the revolution a commitment to human rights has reformed the system. A visit from the National Council for Human Rights yielded conflicting testimony.

Meanwhile the broader issues of respect for human rights and the detention of thousands has taken the attention of several at the United Nations. Twenty-seven countries issued a statement against the government, and had their ambassadors summoned in return, warning them against meddling in Egypt’s internal affairs.

God, these are trying times in Egypt, with conspiracies swirling and legitimacies contested. But a nation is known by how it treats the least of its citizens. Bless those in prison. Comfort them in their troubles. Convict them of their sins. Visit them with your presence.

Give them their rights, God, and do so through the government. Do so through their lawyers. Do so through journalists and human rights activists. Egypt has a long and sordid history to overcome, and if the revolution has changed the discourse, reform will face many challenges. Empower those in the Interior Ministry who will abide by the right.

But where there is ill-treatment, and where there is fabrication, rid Egypt of both. Establish transparent systems that can hold all accountable. Remove the fog of uncertainty that clouds so many issues, that citizens of the nation would discern all truth.

And inasmuch as foreign nations claim to see clearly, may they find the log in their own eyes first. But use them, God, to pressure Egypt appropriately. It feels too much to ask the whole world system to reflect your will, but thank you that human rights are an international concern. Where there is hypocrisy, expose it. Where there is opportunism, void it. But let the light shining on Egypt reveal both its virtue and vice, that all may be clean.

May it be, God, that Egypt’s prisons are free of abuse – both now and in the future. Bless those there on both sides of the bars. No prison is wholesome, but may all emerge so. Let coming testimonies reflect this reality.

Amen.

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Excerpts

Revolution and Happiness

To those young men and women and idealists of all sorts who looked longingly at the first wave of the Arab Spring:

Here, courtesy of the United Nations via Ahram Online, is a sobering statistic:

A report published by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network has listed Egypt as the 130th most happy nation out of 156 surveyed.

Egypt’s happiness rate dropped by 21.2 percent in comparison with 2005-2007, according to the 2013 World Happiness Report which was published in September.

According to the report, countries in the Middle East and North Africa have witnessed a decrease of nearly 60 percent in their “happiness rate.”

In today’s day and age, much of what can be considered happiness is tied to the feeling of belonging to and working for good in something greater than oneself. I certainly understand how the heroic example of the Arab Spring qualifies.

For those living this reality, however, it is not working out so well.

This is a good reminder of two things: Commitment must outlast the temporary vagaries of ‘happiness’, and, it is very important to chose that commitment wisely.

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Personal

Obama at the UN: As Seen by an Egyptian

Obama at UN

Many Egyptians believe the United States is deeply involved in their nation’s affairs. Some believe because of strong military ties, President Obama was behind the removal of President Morsi. Others believe because of a State Department search for a new reliable partner to do their bidding, President Obama was behind the ascent of the Muslim Brotherhood and is still working to hoist them upon a wary public.

Paul Atallah is among the latter. He frequently distributes a newsletter summing up Egyptian developments in local media and provides his own commentary. If you would like to receive it, his email address is: paul_attallah@hotmail.com

He has given me permission to share his latest take on the ‘weird speech’ President Obama offered at the United Nations.

Point 1: Mohammed Morsi was democratically elected, but proved unwilling or unable to govern in a way that was fully inclusive.

Point 2: The interim government that replaced him responded to the desires of millions of Egyptians who believed the revolution had taken a wrong turn,

Point 3: but it too has made decisions inconsistent with inclusive democracy – through an emergency law, and restrictions on the press, civil society, and opposition parties.

Comment: At this point, Obama did not mention anything about MB and Islamist terrorist actions committed during the last three months which had been the cause of this emergency law, etc. and this makes the whole difference.

Point 4: Of course, America has been attacked by all sides of this internal conflict, simultaneously accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, and engineering their removal from power. In fact, the United States has purposely avoided choosing sides.

Comment: Liar!

Point 5: The United States will maintain a constructive relationship with the interim government.

Point 6: We will continue support in areas like education that benefit the Egyptian people.

Comment: This argument is normally used to say: We are against the regime but we cannot harm the people!

Point 7: Our approach to Egypt reflects a larger point: the United States will at times work with governments that do not meet the highest international expectations, but who work with us on our core interests.

Comment: So we have to deal with a dirty military dictatorship against our will!

Point 8: But we will not stop asserting principles that are consistent with our ideals, whether that means opposing the use of violence as a means of suppressing dissent, or supporting the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We will reject the notion that these principles are simply Western exports, incompatible with Islam or the Arab World – they are the birthright of every person.

Comment: Condemning the Egyptian regime and nothing about MB monstrosities. I feel that he is speaking about Syria and not about Egypt.

Point 9: And while we recognize that our influence will at times be limited; although we will be wary of efforts to impose democracy through military force, and will at times be accused of hypocrisy or inconsistency – we will be engaged in the region for the long haul. For the hard work of forging freedom and democracy is the task of a generation.

Comment: I am not quite sure of what Obama meant by this statement? Does he mean that US at a certain moment would interfere to impose democracy by military force or is he talking of the military coup that happened in order to impose democracy?

If he meant the first one so it is a warning: At a certain point we will be obliged to impose democracy through military force. But I am not sure of this translation.

If the meant the second: How was it possible to get rid of a paramilitary/religious regime?

 As an example of his newsletter, here are a few other links he provides about local analysis in the Egyptian press:

Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Obama speech reflects US submission to the Egyptians will and confirms that Egypt is walking firmly on the roadmap to democracy: Obama’s mention of emergency law and civil society reflects that he is not fully aware of what the Egyptian society is facing on the ground.

El Hariry: MB prohibition and the force of the army defeated Obama in front of the people’s will: US sold the Muslim Brotherhood as they abandoned Mubarak.

Revolutionary forces coalition: 30th of June taught US how to respect the people’s will

It is always fun to be an American in Egypt! In our experience, Egyptians, no matter which side of this divide they occupy, have always treated us kindly and with respect.

 

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Lapido Media Middle East Published Articles

Palestinian Children Languish under Israeli Occupation

Baghdad Declaration

Moves by the Arab League in concert with British activists, are putting pressure on Israeli authorities to observe international legal commitments on children detained, imprisoned and tortured in Israeli jails.

The Baghdad Declaration on the Palestinian and Arab Prisoners in the Israeli Occupation Prisons, issued on 12 December, 2012, includes a devastating critique of Israeli treatment of prisoners including children, and calls for legal sanctions against Israelis involved in their detention.

The 11-point Declaration issued on the second day of the 70-nation conference in the Iraqi capital includes the setting up of an Arab fund to support Palestinian and Arab prisoners and their families.

Hosted by the Arab League under the auspices of the Iraqi Government, it was addressed by both Iraqi President Galal Eltalibany, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nori Al Maliky as well as Palestinian Prime Minister Sallam Fayyad and Secretary General of the League of Arab States, Dr Nabil Elaraby.  British jurists, parliamentarians, and representatives of civil society organizations also attended.

The Declaration calls on the United Nations and the international community to hold Israel accountable for its treatment of Palestinian prisoners, especially children, using all available legal mechanisms.

Between 500 and 700 Palestinian children are arrested by Israeli soldiers every year, according to NGOs.

Rev. Stephen Sizer
Rev. Stephen Sizer

‘I chose to speak on child prisoners because it is there that I believe we see most blatantly human rights abuses,’ said the Revd. Stephen Sizer, vicar of Virginia Water in Surrey, England, a presenter at the conference, who helped assemble the sizeable British contingent.

A widely-published critic of ‘Christian Zionism’, he is currently under church investigation following a complaint – which he opposes – of anti-Semitism issued by the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

‘Israel breaches international law by transferring minors from Palestine to Israeli jails,’ said Mr Sizer to Lapido Media, referring to the Fourth Geneva Convention. ‘They should be returned to Palestine if they have committed offences.’

Stone throwing

Sizer’s report to the conference sponsored by the United Nations and Arab League says that most of the offences committed by children are throwing stones at soldiers or settlers in illegal Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories.

‘Armed resistance of an illegal military occupation is legitimate in international law,’ said Mr Sizer.

Gerard Horton of Defense for Children International (DCI) who also attended the conference, does not deny children offend, but says that they have legal rights like anyone else.

‘Regardless of what they’re accused of, they shouldn’t be arrested in the middle of the night in terrifying raids, they should not be painfully tied up and blindfolded sometimes for hours on end, they should be informed of the right to silence and they should be entitled to have a parent present during questioning.’

A DCI-Palestine report found that among 311 sworn affidavits taken from children between January 2008 and January 2012, 90 percent were blindfolded and 75 percent suffered physical violence. A further 33 percent reported being strip searched, while 12 percent endured solitary confinement.

Mark Negev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said in the past hat rock-throwing, throwing Molotov cocktails, and other forms of violence are ‘unacceptable’ – but stopping it should not be achieved illegally.

Israeli security agency Shin Bet denies the use of unlawful methods:  ‘No one questioned, including minors, is kept alone in a cell as a punitive measure or in order to obtain a confession,’ it says.

But one 16-year old Mohamed Shabrawi (16) of Tulkarem in the West Bank, cited by DCI, tells of soldiers seizing him in his home at 2:30am. He claimed he spent the first seventeen days of his detention in solitary confinement, and was told his family would be arrested if he did not cooperate.

After twenty days he first saw a lawyer. After twenty-five days he was formally charged. Finally, he confessed to being a member in a banned organization and was sentenced to forty-five days in prison.

Horton believes the abuse of children is meant as a deterrent, as many interviewed minors state they never wish to see another soldier or go near a checkpoint.

‘Human rights abuses occur on all sides,’ said Mr Sizer. ‘We are most concerned about the use of detention by the Israelis for political purposes.’

This article was first published on Lapido Media on January 2, 2012.

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Personal

Misnomers and Idealism in the Palestinian Question

As the Palestinian Authority prepares to request statehood from the United Nations, this essay will highlight a few terms which serve to obscure the public debate, as well as idealize the best way forward. It will not propose an answer to the ‘yes –no’ question faced by the United States at the UN, as either answer falls short of what will be offered as ideal.

The Right to Exist

This expression is often put forward to explain Israeli difficulties in securing peace with the Palestinians. To be sure, the official proclamation of Hamas to seek elimination of the Israeli state is an overwhelming obstacle to relations. Yet by seeking ‘the right to exist’ Israel overreaches.

Part of the difficulty this expression causes Palestinians and Hamas in particular is that the phrase not only establishes the Israeli state, it provides it positive moral approval. Before the prevalence of Zionism as a world Jewish movement there were limited numbers of Jews in the current geographical territories in dispute. There were also limited numbers of Palestinians, but this should not overshadow the fact the vast majority of current Jews in Israel came from elsewhere. Some of their land was purchased, some was taken through violence, terrorism, and displacement, and some was conquered through war.

Palestinians assert, rightly, that the majority of this land used to belong to them. That it does no longer is a political fact, but Israel does not simply demand recognition of their state, but also the right of its existence. Such moralistic language is a slap in the face to the thousands of Palestinian refugees forced from their homes.

Furthermore, the ‘right to exist’ expression is not the language of diplomacy and international relations. Do the Kurds have a right to exist? Do the South Sudanese? Do the French? Awkwardly, in light of American ‘Manifest Destiny’ history, does the United States? Countries come into existence through political norms of various means, and sometimes disappear. Israel is constituted among the number of legitimate states by the only organization with jurisdiction to declare in the nation-state system – the United Nations. Palestinians should admit to this reality and recognize Israel. They should not be forced to admit the morality of its existence.

Negotiated Settlement

It is right and proper that the outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be decided through negotiation. The basis for peace rests upon mutually agreed decisions taken to bring parties closer together. Ultimately, there is no substitute for this inevitability.

Yet the popular discourse in discrediting the Palestinian effort to achieve UN recognition in favor of a ‘negotiated settlement’ overlooks certain realities in the equation. First and foremost is Israel’s own status as a sovereign nation. This was not accomplished through a negotiated settlement, but by Jewish immigration, their armed militias, and ratification by the United Nations. Arab nations stood opposed to the decision, which was forced upon them by the international community. Improperly, they responded in war, which only hurt their cause further. Israel achieved its recognized status through the international means available. It is now seeking to deny Palestinians access to the same means.

Yet a further aspect of ‘negotiated settlement’ obscures the issues at hand. Israel has treated its settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem as a topic for negotiation. It similarly treats the issue of the right of return for Palestinian refugees. In doing so, however, it seeks to negotiate two items which stand patently against international law. Yet during recent ‘negotiations’ not only has Israel sought to balance its expropriated settlement territories with traded land elsewhere, it has continued expanding its settlement claims. It is fair enough for Palestinians to consider land swaps if they so choose, but they should not be forced to. The settlements are illegal, however much they may be facts-on-the-ground. Yes, human Jewish lives reside there, and after all this time their displacement would be problematic. Yet Israeli culpability in establishing the settlements should not be a subject of negotiation, but of condemnation. How can Palestinians negotiate over that which is illegal to begin with?

If Palestinians gain access to UN membership, they will have access to file suit against Israel in the International Court of Justice. Israel has successfully resisted UN resolutions to withdraw from the occupied territories. It has successfully resisted negotiations with the Palestinians to cede full control over the territories. Israel does face the thorny issue of Hamas-led resistance to mutual recognition, but it should also be noted that only sovereign nations can recognize each other. Recognition of Israel is a proper negotiating carrot for the Palestinians, one they cannot even offer until they receive a state of their own. Member status at the United Nations, even on observer basis, may achieve this through the international court.

De-legitimize Israel

This phrase has also been utilized in the rhetoric to discredit the Palestinian effort at the United Nations. Closer examination, however, reveals the exact opposite to be true. This explains the reticence of Hamas to support the UN process initiated by the Palestinian Authority.

If anything, the creation of a Palestinian state immediately legitimizes Israel. No longer will Palestinians be able to refuse recognizing Israel without threatening their credibility in the international community. Hamas and others still maintain international justice should discredit the very establishment of the Israeli state. With a UN recognized Palestine, this claim goes by the wayside. In all likelihood, with it will go the right of return for Palestinian refugees as well. They will now have their own state to return to, even if their original home was on the other side of the 1967 border.

What the Palestinian bid at the UN does do, however, is de-legitimize Israeli policies in the occupied territories. This, though explained above, includes also disproportionate Israeli access to West Bank resources and criss-crossing the territory with settler-only lines of transportation. By moving these issues to an international forum, Palestinians do bring into question issues of legitimacy. Their overall message, however, legitimizes the Israeli state, as is proper and good.

The Arguments for No

If the above reasoning is correct, it is difficult to imagine why Israel is opposing the measure, unless it wishes to annex the territories of Judea and Samaria entirely. By granting Palestinians their state, it wins the international community as a partner to resisting any terrorism which issues from it, which would now be state-sponsored unless rigorously opposed. Perhaps more importantly to many, it also safeguards the status of Israel as a Jewish state, as the overwhelming Jewish majority would not be threatened demographically by the inclusion of additional Palestinians, either refugees seeking return or original residents in the occupied territories.

Should then the United States, with enthusiastic Israeli support, vote yes? There are a few problems lingering to suggest no. The ideal solution offered as well aims beyond it, however much it might threaten the advantages of yes.

In addition to the intransigence of Hamas, the Palestinian people suffer from a lack of true representation on the part of all their leaders. While a recent poll does suggest that 83% of Palestinians favor the move for statehood, neither Fatah nor Hamas has received a mandate through elections in quite some time. The only protests in Palestine during the Arab Spring have been against their nominal leadership, refusing their stridency in maintaining a political division. If Palestine receives statehood would the people be able to transcend this division? Would Fatah and Hamas allow them to? It remains to be seen.

Secondly and more seriously, immediate statehood would likely cement the animosity between Israel and Palestine, establishing a cold war even if there is official peace. Such a war could quickly get hot as the new Palestinian government would face the question of what to do with the Jewish settlements within its borders. Would it consider them Palestinian citizens? Would it violently uproot them? Would the settlers institute violence to seek maintenance of their now bygone privileged societal position? It is a thorny issue.

Thirdly and problematically, how do the West Bank and Gaza represent a functioning state given the lack of geographical congruity with Israel in between? As a tiny, landlocked entity save for the Gaza strip, Palestine would be barely a political district in the makeup of many countries. How could it function as an independent nation?

To vote no in the UN would throw these questions back to the negotiating table, and it is not certain a solution would be found there, either. Yet which outcome is more dangerous, yes or no?

An Ideal Solution?

It is admitted that the move away from negotiations is a move away from the ideal. A unilateral action towards statehood threatens to put the Palestinian question into the hands of the international court. While this step may greatly improve the Palestinian negotiating position, it hardens hearts and relationships, as true peace can only come from mutual embrace.

Calling for an ideal mutual embrace, however, moves the discussion from the realm of geopolitics into the realm of morality. Does the current situation in Israel/Palestine represent morality? Certainly not, on all sides. Would an imposed two-state solution represent morality? Sadly, no. Could a negotiated settlement represent a moral position? Perhaps, but these efforts have been underway for decades, and the political will seems to be lacking on both sides.

A mutual embrace, for now, purposely sidelines the fact that two peoples are largely in hostility. A solution of mutual embrace will assume the very difficult work of reconciliation. Yet the core of this idea is the undoing of two mutually contradicting narratives: A state for the Jews, and a state for the Palestinians. Roughly speaking, it calls for a one state solution.

Label this state what you want, though in fact its name will be one of the contentious issues to solve. ‘Israel’ – ‘Israelistine’ – ‘Paliel’ – ‘Israel-Palestine’ – ‘Palestine-Israel’. The very exercise of naming demonstrates the deep ethno-centrality of both sides. It is good for a people to have their own state. Is it better – more ideal – for an intermixed people to live together in one state, peacefully?

Admitting to this notion would require Zionist-inclined Jews to give up the idea of a Jewish state. Though deeply challenging, not all Jews are Zionists, and for most of history many Jews believed it a sin to seek reestablishment of a state before the appearance of the Messiah. That there is a current Jewish state is a political fact, may be the will of God, and is not immoral. But is there something better?

Admitting to this notion would require anti-Semitic Palestinians (and other Arabs) to give up the idea of a Jew-free Middle East. Though deeply challenging, not all Palestinians are anti-Semites, and for most of history many Arabs have lived peacefully side-by-side with Jews. That there are Palestinians who question Zionism-as-racism is a political fact, may be the will of God, and is not immoral. But is there something better?

What is better is the ideal of a civil democratic state with equal rights for all its citizens. Jew, Christian, and Muslim would each contribute to the success of the nation. Significant biases and economic disparities would need to be overcome. This was challenging with the reunification of Germany; it would be doubly so in this case. Yet as an ideal – that men might live together and form a representative government accountable by law – this is a more sublime goal for which to strive. In contrast to the current clamor at the United Nations, it is nearly heavenly.

Alas, ideals fall easy prey to politics and reality. Yet men of ideals can change both their politics and their reality. What is necessary is vision and commitment. Few so far have adopted the vision of one-state reconciliation; perhaps in the outcome of the UN process, if the United States does indeed vote no, more will find it.

I myself lack the full vision and courage to advocate the ideal. Even the attempt to define an ideal is subjective and often naïve. Problems in application are myriad and obvious.

Yet resistance to an ideal is often a refuge in the baser instincts of human nature. No ideal can come to be in willful ignorance of human depravity, yet the human struggle calls for virtue and sacrifice in pursuit of worthy ideals. Peace between Jews and Palestinians should certainly qualify. This is but one solution, perhaps more hopeful, in the path to its reality.

 

Related Post: 1967 and the Right of Return