What is Required is Peace, Not Pacification in the Holy Land

By Jesse Wheeler



At the time of this writing, the latest pronouncement from the US administration regarding the long-anticipated Israeli-Palestinian peace plan – nicknamed “the Deal of the Century” – is that its content and substance will be announced in June 2019, heretofore hidden behind a “not-so-secret” veil of secrecy. Soon, we will learn if this is indeed the case. Pundits and partisans, left and right, have speculated as to the content of the plan, with many pondering its chances for success and others pronouncing it dead on arrival – as based on what has been witnessed thus far concerning the recognition of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, defunding UNWRA, and sidelining Palestinian leadership. Meanwhile, Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom published what they report to be a leaked draft of the plan.

Regarding its content and substance, journalist Jonathan Cook paraphrases the main elements of the plan as including:

  • Support for full Israeli annexation of large swaths of the West Bank and the full incorporation into Israel proper of Israeli settlements, currently illegal under international law.
  • The establishment of an entity, being referred to as “New Palestine,” consisting of discrete districts cut off from each other and surrounded by settlements. “New Palestine” would constitute 12% of historic, mandate Palestine.
  • Economic funding ($30 billion over 5 years) funneled into “New Palestine” provided primarily by the cash rich Gulf-states. Israel currently receives $38 billion in aid, which would likely continue.
  • Jerusalem would remain the capital of Israel. Israelis would ostensibly not be allowed to buy Palestinian homes, but the Palestinians of East Jerusalem would become citizens of New Palestine, not Jerusalem.
  • The Gaza strip would be opened to territory in northern Sinai where there would ostensibly exist an industrial zone and airport for use by Gazans.
  • Palestinian refugees in the surrounding countries would permanently become the responsibility of those various countries.
  • Should the Palestinians refuse the deal, Jonathan Cook reports, “The US would cut off all money transfers to the Palestinians” and “the US would authorize Israel to ‘personally harm’ the leadership of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
  • If Israel fails to abide by the agreement, they too would ostensibly lose funding.

Likewise, it is reported that Saudi officials delivered a report to Mahmoud Abbas, who, unsurprisingly, rejected it outright. After seeing the plan and raising objections, Abbas presented a counter-offer to the Americans, “who refused to discuss it and warned that ‘the plan is not for negotiation; it’s for implementation.’” As further reported by Middle East Eye, “[US Envoy to the Middle East] Jason Greenblatt said that the US peace plan is designed to benefit the region as a whole, and does not require the consent of the Palestinians,” adding that, “The Palestinians are no longer the deciding party. We have a plan for the region and the Palestinians can join in if they want, but they are also free not to.”


As a “peace-plan” between Israelis and Palestinians, I think it is fair to say that without Palestinian involvement the document will be dead on arrival. To those cognizant of the Palestinian perspective, it appears as though the stipulations listed above would simply add international legitimacy to the Israeli Occupation and settlement enterprise as they currently exist, joining a long history of internationally sponsored agreements – detailed by Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi in The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: from the Balfour Declaration of 1917, declaring the desire on the part of Great Britain to create a “national home for the Jewish people,” then 5% of the population, in historic Palestine; the UN Partition plan of 1947, granting 55% of the most desirable land to what was by that time 31% of the population; UN Resolution 242 after the 1967 War that witnessed the advent of the Israeli Occupation, pressuring the Palestinians to abandon their claims to historic, mandate Palestine in eventual exchange for a state of their own within the remaining territory (22%); to the Oslo Accords of the early 1990s, which granted a veneer of legitimacy to the Israeli occupation in exchange for the pretense of a Palestinian state with “authority” over an even smaller swath (40%) of the remaining 22% of territory after 1967. To the Palestinians, Kushner’s 12% plan represents just an additional stage in their continued and ongoing displacement at the hands of a militarily powerful settler-colonial enterprise. For this reason, Palestinian leaders have been calling the plan little more than “conditions for surrender,” or a “surrender note.”

However, as Haaretz columnist Anshel Pfeffer asks, “What if the Trump plan should work after all?” – not as a “peace-plan,” but as a means of removing the Palestinian problem from the international agenda and creating space for regional Arab-Israeli cooperation. Pfeffer writes,

As far as the authors of the plan are concerned, it’s not about delivering a just and equitable solution for the Palestinians. Success for them would be removing the Palestinians and their predicament from the international agenda at the lowest price possible. That price is a series of semi-autonomous enclaves in Gaza and, at the most, half the territory of the West Bank, and as much Saudi, Emirati and Qatari cash as it will take to keep them quiet.

Theological Reflections and Missiological Implications

Residing at the heart of our mission as followers of Christ is the pursuit of reconciliation. Anything short of this is dereliction of duty. As theologian Veli-Matti Karkkainen explains in his chapter, “Reconciliation as the Church’s Mission in the World”:

Casting the doctrine of atonement in proper Trinitarian framework and in the context of God’s faithfulness to His creation helps us widen and make more inclusive the work of atonement by focusing on the multifaceted meaning of the term ‘reconciliation’ – healing and bringing together broken relationships. Of all the metaphors of salvation, reconciliation has the potential of being the most inclusive and comprehensive, encompassing such ideas as “cosmic reconciliation, the Hebrew notion of shalom, the meaning of the cross, the psychological effects of conversion, the work of the Holy Spirit, the overcoming of barriers between Christians, the work of the Church in the world, peacemaking, movements towards ethnic reconciliation and the renewal of ecological balances between humanity and its natural environment.” Underlying many of these facets of reconciliation is the motif of restoration of relationships.[1]

This is the future vision towards which we must presently strive, in Palestine-Israel as much as elsewhere. For his part, celebrated Mennonite peacebuilder John Paul Lederach defines reconciliation as consisting of equal parts truth, justice, mercy and peace.[2] Without all four aspects in play, any attempts at reconciliation will remain tenuous and inadequate.

Furthermore, drawing on insights from Salim Munayer and Lisa Loden, it is often the case in intractable conflicts that two distinct narrative frames are at play in interpreting and understanding a conflict. This is the situation in Israel-Palestine. Palestinians and their sympathizers, for instance, interpret history and assign blame in one manner, while Israelis and Israeli sympathizers interpret history and assign blame in an opposite manner. And, as both personal and collective identities are so intimately tied to the narratives through which individuals or groups interpret their experiences of conflict, coming to terms with alternate readings of history can be extremely challenging and at times psychologically and emotionally destabilizing. As such, a proposed solution that might seem reasonable and level-headed to one, would appear disastrous to another. In this way, Palestinians will naturally interpret the “gift” of North Sinai through the lens of al-Nakba, as an additional instance of ethnic cleansing, another attempt to drive Palestinians from their ancestral homeland. Likewise, Israelis will often interpret the “one-state solution” through the lens of historic anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish pogroms ultimately resulting in the Holocaust, as a desire to destroy Israel. Palestinian and Israeli communities each embody zero-sum narratives of national destruction.

To paraphrase philosophical ethicist Alasdair MacIntyre: in any disagreement or dialogue, agreement requires “enabling those who participate in it both to give voice to their own concerns and to understand those of others.” Otherwise, the dual evils of suppression or disruption will inevitably rear their ugly heads.[3] It is precisely for this reason that both sides must be present at the negotiating table if any semblance of a just peace is to be reached. Therefore, for the sake of mercy and peace, both Israeli and Palestinian narratives must be taken into consideration and valued. Yet, for the sake of truth and justice it must also be acknowledged that not all narratives are constructed equally. Some promulgate a sense of continual victimhood, real or imagined. Other narrative constructs facilitate “virtuous violence,” increasing the likelihood and longevity of violent conflict. And, some narratives quite plainly serve the interests of empire, legitimating conquest, exploitation and theft. In such a scenario, peace without justice is little more than pacification, for “as long as glaring economic and social imbalances persist,” Fr. Daniel Groody reminds us, “peace is impossible.”[4]

[1] Veli-Matti Karkkainen, Christ and Reconciliation: A Constructive Christian Theology for the Pluralistic World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2013) 364

[2] John Paul Lederach, Reconcile: Conflict Transformation for Ordinary Christians (Harrisonburg: Herald Press, 2017) 83

[3] Alasdair MacIntyre, Ethics and Politics: Selected Essays Vol. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006)

[4] Daniel Groody, Globalization, Spirituality and Justice, (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2007) Kindle Location 3061.