Throughout our Middle East mission we have not encountered anyone who had confidence in the future success of the faltering peace process. Instead, we have heard a steady stream of complaints about the policies of Israel, which are often supported or condoned by the United States. There is no doubt that many of these concerns are justified, especially those focused on the Israeli occupation and colonisation of Palestine by settlers.
What is generally overlooked in this region is the reluctance within Arab nations to assume responsibility for the lack of progress towards peace and justice for Palestinians or the alleviation of their suffering. Political leaders are reluctant to take bold and concerted action even to promote their admirable Arab Peace Initiative if there is a danger of displeasing the United States (or Israel).
The terrible plight of the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza is accepted or ignored to such an extent that 40,000 school children are being deprived of an education, while some few lucky ones attend classes in abandoned shipping containers. They need 250 new schools, but no building materials are available to replace or repair the destroyed homes, schools, hospitals, and other public buildings – except for small quantities coming through the southern tunnels. Where is the concerted outcry or an outpouring of financial aid?
There is a reluctance by key Arab leaders to give strong support to reunification of the two major Palestinian factions, which would permit a transitional government to conduct long-overdue elections and for more normal conditions to be resumed in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.
The fact is that no one is really suffering in the region except the Palestinians, and a special effort is being made by Israel and some other powers to make it obvious that deprivation in Gaza under Hamas is always worse than in the other parts of Palestine where Fatah is in control.
It is inconvenient to remember that Hamas candidates prevailed in the last Palestinian election in January 2006. They were then declared to be terrorists, deprived from taking office, and all those outside Gaza were imprisoned and punished in other ways. There is an effort by Israel to deport those living in East Jerusalem.
There are many people in Europe and in the United States who condemn the subjugation and punishment of the Palestinian people and support a fully recognised, peaceful, and secure Israel. They need a rallying point, which will not be available until the Arab world is united in championing both these goals. A muted and equivocal criticism of Israeli policies and deference to those of the United States will not be sufficient.
The Palestinians are increasingly desperate. We pray that Israel will stop settlement building so peace talks can be resumed, but other action will be necessary if this effort fails. One widely mentioned option is for Palestine to be recognised by the U.N. and given support as a state within its 1967 borders. If the United States vetoes this move, then Arab countries, those in Europe, and others around the world should act. At least the stalemate would be broken.