Office of Government Relations

EPPN Lenten Series Part 4: Spotlight on Security

March 26, 2014
Office of Government Relations

Almighty God, kindle, we pray, in every heart the true love of peace, and guide with your wisdom those who take counsel for the nations of the earth; that in tranquility your dominion may increase, until the earth is filled with the knowledge of your love; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  – Collect for Peace on Good Friday, Book of Common Prayer

This week we continue our look at the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and the difficult issues the parties must confront in coming to a true, just, and lasting peace.   Today, we turn our attention to the issue of security.

Before doing so, let us look one more time at negotiations, but not the present ones.  Thirty five years ago today, on the White House lawn, the governments of Israel and Egypt signed the peace treaty that resulted from the Camp David negotiations brokered by President Jimmy Carter over the course of many months.   In commemoration of the anniversary of a peace deal which still holds to this day, the Israel State Archives today have released for the first time and posted on their website the minutes of the negotiations.  The documents are a gripping read, both because they offer a candid look at the parties’ grappling with issues that Israelis, Palestinians, and their American interlocutors are still grappling with today, and because they reveal how, until the very last minute, distrust among the parties nearly scuttled a deal.  “How can I make agreement with people I do not trust?” asked Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, while Israeli official (and future Prime Minister) Ariel Sharon noted that it is “strange to belong to a nation which is the only one, maybe in the world, that has to convince [others] of its right to exist and its right for security.”

Yet, as we know now, the parties did come to a lasting peace.   Despite various issues each side cited repeatedly as deal-breakers that were “off the table,” eventually the parties walked together – albeit with “pained hearts,” the phrase Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin famously used before the Israeli Knesset in endorsing the deal – into a space in which trust had to prevail because the alternative was a future in the permanent wilderness and isolation of conflict.

Today – as we consider the issue of security in the present negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians – please Click here: to send a short note to your lawmakers reminding them of the historic achievement of 35 years ago today and urging their support for the current Administration in its work to support Israelis and Palestinians in working toward true, just, and lasting peace and security for all.


What is the central issue and why is it important?

In order for a just peace to succeed, both Israel and a future Palestinian state must be able to exist in absolute security and autonomy, unthreatened militarily – not just in the short term but permanently – by their neighbors.   Israel, which has faced persistent threats to its existence through military violence and terrorism during its 66-year history and the present, must receive the universal recognition of its Arab neighbors, including a future Palestinian state, and an agreement that will protect it from all violent threats.    Palestinians must receive, as we examined last week, permanent and universally recognized borders to a viable and contiguous state whose citizens are able to live their lives with the freedom and dignity that is not compromised by the present reality of conflict and occupation.  


What is the history?

In some ways, this is the most complicated piece of all, and one that involves the conflicting narratives of two peoples that the most recent General Convention specifically has urged Episcopalians to consider.   We will, later this spring, present a more comprehensive look at the history of the conflict and the narratives of the different parties.   As noted above, threats to Israel’s security have been a constant of its nearly seven-decade existence, though the nature of these threats has varied greatly from 1948 to the present.   Similarly, violence by Palestinians and Israelis against one another has been a constant of the conflict, though it too has looked very different at different times.   What is important to consider right now is the present reality of security, and how Israelis and Palestinians see that moving forward.


What is the Israeli view of the present reality and the future?

Israel, citing decades of hostility from its neighbors dating to its original independence and ongoing violence against its citizens, has placed paramount concern in negotiations on the security of the state and its people.   While Israel now enjoys peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, two of its once-most-formidable foes, and while other neighboring states have endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative, it continues to face substantial threat from other neighbors and continuing violence against its civilians, particularly from the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip.  Accordingly, Israel has taken the position entering negotiations that it should retain a military presence in the Jordan Valley to defend against potential threats from the east.  It has also demanded the demilitarization of a future Palestinian state, and defended its placement of the Separation Barrier on the Palestinian side of the Green Line in certain places, as necessities to protect its cities.   On the other hand, opinion in both Israeli government and military circles has, in recent years, increasingly come to recognize that a permanent peace agreement with Palestinians and other Arab neighbors will be far more effective in safeguarding Israel’s long-security than territorial control.


What is the Palestinian view of the present reality and the future?

The Palestinian National Authority, meanwhile, has recognized Israel’s existence and right to security, dramatically and (by most accounts) proficiently increased its own security cooperation with Israel in recent years, and significantly controlled violence against Israelis originating in the West Bank.   It has emphasized, however, that the safeguarding of Israel’s security in a long-term peace agreement cannot trump the sovereignty, contiguity, or viability of a future Palestinian state.   Moreover, Palestinians have rejected the notion of a continued Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley or any of its territory, the routing of the separation barrier on the Palestinian side of the Green line, or any other security measure that would compromise Palestinian freedom of movement within its own territory.


How does Gaza relate to the present reality and the future?

Both sides recognize the enormous complexity of Gaza as it relates to security and a future agreement between the parties.    The political control in Gaza of Hamas represents an enormous challenge both to the political viability and coherence of a future Palestinian state as well as the security of the Israeli people.   Meanwhile, the sealing of Gaza’s borders by Israel and Egypt, and the control of territorial waters by Israel, has served no one well, with humanitarian conditions there now being among the direst in the world.   Determining how Gaza fits into a final-status agreement will not be an easy task for the parties.   On the other hand, the surest way to diminish the influence of extremists is for Israelis and Palestinians to come to a peace agreement.  Numerous recent surveys of Palestinian public opinion show that the Palestinians would embrace a peace agreement – and the moderate leadership that is necessary to achieve and implement it – should such an agreement become a viable possibility.


What about the argument that Israel’s 2005 military withdrawal from Gaza was only met by more violence directed at Israeli civilians?

No one should downplay the widespread threat to innocent civilians wrought by rocket fire from Gaza, including the steady stream of attacks since Israel withdrew its military presence and settlements from Gaza beginning in 2005.    The 2005 withdrawal, however, was unilateral and not accompanied by negotiations over matters like security cooperation.  The present negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians should be seen in a very different light.   A much better analogue would be the 1978-79 negotiations between Israel and Egypt that led to the peace treaty or the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians that led to the beginning of Palestinian self-administration (and security cooperation with the Israelis) in the West Bank.  


What about the Separation Barrier?

Like all sovereign nations, Israel is free to safeguard its borders and protect its citizens through all appropriate and legal means at its disposal.    As noted last week, The Episcopal Church has said that Israel’s construction over the past decade of the separation barrier – a security fence in most places and a concrete wall in a few urban areas – “is a legal security measure but not where it violates Palestinian land.”   If a border with a future Palestinian state is a true border, the Palestinians must have sovereignty on their side of the border, and The Episcopal Church continues to believe – as do most international parties, including the United States government – that the Green Line should be the starting point for negotiations.  


What else has The Episcopal Church said about security?

The Episcopal Church, over the course of at least 35 years of resolutions on the subject, has continually emphasized several themes related to security.   These include:

  • Israel, the homeland for the Jewish people, has the right to exist within secure borders recognized by all nations;
  • A future Palestinian state should be viable, secure, contiguous, and autonomous;
  • Violence by all parties, and particularly violence against civilians, is to utterly condemned without qualification;
  • The use of military force in mediating the conflict should be limited to practices proportionate the situation, particularly where civilian control is concerned; and
  • True security, a component of a just and lasting peace, can only be achieved through a negotiated two state solution between the parties.

The Office of Government Relations