It is an unintended irony this Advent that our eyes are once again on the Middle East. Liturgically, we may be awaiting the arrival of the Prince of Peace, but politically we are listening for rumors of war.
A tentative cease-fire ended eight days of fierce bombardments last month, but 140 Palestinians already had been killed and another 1,200 were wounded in the conflict. Israel had six dead and 129 wounded. The rockets and airstrikes seemed to bolster the most militant voices in both Palestine and Israel. In Gaza, Hamas, the Islamist movement that has ruled there for the past five years, provoked the conflict with missile strikes on Israel, which in turn launched a barrage of aerial bombardments. Although their death toll was disproportionate, many Palestinians acted as if Hamas had won by fighting Israel to a draw.
|The Vatican’s statement urged both Israelis and Palestinians to restart peace talks in good faith and ‘avoid actions’ or ‘conditions, which would contradict’ the search for solutions.
One effect of the battle was the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, appeared to be marginalized because it did not join the fighting and was critical of its rival, Hamas. This changed with the United Nations’ vote Nov. 29 implicitly recognizing Palestinian statehood. President Mahmoud Abbas — who has in recent years pressed for a non-militaristic solution to the standoff — won the recognition of Palestine as a nonmember observer state by a staggering majority of countries in the United Nations. The final vote was 138 to 9, with 41 abstentions.
|Palestinians survey the remains of a destroyed house after an Israeli air strike in the town of Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza strip on November 18. Newscom photo
While both Israel and Hamas dismissed the vote, the outcome reflected what the Vatican approvingly saw as the “sentiment of the majority of the international community” in favor of a “more significant presence to Palestinians within the United Nations.” The Vatican statement said that such a vote did not solve the region’s problems, however. It urged both Israelis and Palestinians to restart peace talks in good faith and “avoid actions” or “conditions, which would contradict” the search for solutions.
Unfortunately, Israel announced shortly after the vote that it was planning to retaliate by expanding the settlements near Jerusalem, a move that — if acted upon — would make both a two-state solution and a peaceful resolution to the crisis even more remote.
The United States, as has been the case for 65 years, continues to support Israel’s right to exist within secure, just and recognized boundaries. To achieve this, Israel and the Palestinians must negotiate a true peace together. Many obstacles stand in the way, not the least of which is intense regional hostility to Israel. Still, with this goal in mind, we wearily note that the unwillingness of Israel to address the many political and human rights issues in the conflict — including the treatment of non-Jewish citizens within its own borders, the disproportionate military responses to acts of terrorism, the severe economic hardships on the Palestinian people, and the continued expansion of settlements on disputed lands — is eroding international support.
We also are sad that organizations like Hamas, which enjoy wide Palestinian support, resort to terror. When such groups attack Israeli citizens, they initiate a cycle of attack and retaliation that further inflames the situation.
Pope Benedict XVI said in 2009: The recognition of Israel’s right to exist on the part of the Arab states and the right to a “sovereign and independent homeland” for the Palestinians both must be recognized for a secure and lasting peace to be possible. It is the only way.