On May 22, the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land published a statement calling for a new “orientation” or “vision” for the Palestinian-Israeli situation. That new solution is an alternative that has always been present: the formation of one political community in which all the members of the different religious communities come together in mutual respect and equality “in this same land.” In other words, according to the Ordinaries, the time has come to move past the two-state solution and to embrace a one state alternative. They thus call together Christians, “Jews, Muslims, Druze and all others who share this vision of a society based on equality and the common good….”
The Ordinaries’ statement is extraordinary, and not primarily for its reorientation away from a two-state solution toward one state. Indeed, one of the statement’s most striking features is its expressed exasperation with the seven decades of struggle for a political solution acceptable to Jews and Palestinians. An “evaporation of hope” animates the document: the patriarchs, exarchs, bishops, and other signatories express no faith in a possible two-state solution. Indeed, still more extraordinary, they question “whether international diplomacy and the peace process were ever actually based on justice and good will.” (my emphasis) They write, “Even those who once presented themselves as guardians of democracy and promoters of peace, have become power-brokers and partisan participants in the conflict.” This is a deeply emotional statement, and one that comes across almost as cynical, and not merely hopeless.
Surely a peace process is broken when major parties to its consequences question not only the attainment of the process’s goal, but the very basis upon which and its participants have operated. The Catholic Ordinaries plainly believe the process profoundly infected by partisanship, power-brokering, ill-will and bad-faith that, they suggest, may have been there from its very beginning. Assuming they are correct, we cannot be surprised by a call for a new approach to the problems besetting Israel and Palestinians, but we can be surprised by what they call for in its place.
If the assumption is one of bad faith and the evaporation of hope, on what grounds can the Ordinaries advance the claim “that we can love one another and live together in mutual respect and equality, equal in rights and duties, in this same land” and say “this is not simply a dream but the powerful basis of a vision that inspired our ancestors, the prophets?” For they claim that members of all faiths can live together “in this same land” not as a theological claim, but as a political claim. The claim is the two state solution must be abandoned in favor of “living together in this same land” in which parties that cannot broker a political solution and have operated in bad faith will now treat each other “based on dignity, mutual respect and equality.”
But a political claim must draw upon all realities relevant to politics, including the theological fact of human sinfulness. If we suspect, as the Ordinaries do, sin has corrupted the peace process to such a degree the process should be dumped for an alternative, then the alternative must itself account for the corrupting influence of sin. One cannot exclaim “evaporation of hope and power-brokering” at the level of diplomacy and then build a political community on the basis of mutual love, respect and equality, as though to whisper the terms brings them into being. Politics presumes compromise and negotiation, and though the two state peace process has been hobbled by recent developments, real issues – the so-called “final status issues” of Jerusalem, the settlements, Palestinian refugees, and borders – have been identified and await resolution.
There can be no question that hopes for a solution of any sort are at another low and there are good reasons for all parties invested in a solution to be skeptical of all the other parties. There are meager grounds upon which to base hopes for positive outcomes. Unemployment in Gaza is at or above fifty percent; water quality is poor, electricity unreliable; prospects for the young in Gaza are perilous and indeed, near hopeless. But the one-state vision offered by the Ordinaries is not merely a dream, despite their assurances; it is more importantly insufficiently attentive to the fundamental experiences and needs of Israel’s Jewish population summed up in the view that Israel needs to remain demographically and politically a Jewish state.
Recognition of that need has led both the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Holy See (a sovereign entity under international law) to support the two-state solution. They acknowledge the desires of both peoples – Palestinians and Jews – to have land and sovereignty of their own. As Pope Francis said, as recently as January of 2018 in his address to the diplomatic corp of the Holy See, “Seventy years of confrontation make more urgent than ever the need for a political solution that allows the presence in the region of two independent states within internationally recognized borders.” Seventy years is a lifetime for many people: many Palestinians have lived and died in a situation only ironically captured by the term “peace.” But seventy years is not long enough to abandon hope in the only solution respectful of the desires of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples to live in that land as independent and sovereign.
Joseph E. Capizzi is Professor of Moral Theology at the Catholic University of America. He teaches in the areas of social and political theology, with special interests in issues in peace and war, citizenship, political authority, and Augustinian theology. His latest book is Politics, Justice, and War: Christian Governance and the Ethics of Warfare (Oxford University Press, 2015).
Photo Credit: Barbwire and fencing criss-cross Jerusalem separating the Arab Quarter from the Jewish Quarter. 2018 By Drew Griffin, Managing Editor for Providence.