As Christians around the world prepare to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, it is tragic that His birthplace continues to be a place of turmoil. In recent weeks, President George Bush and others have expressed hope that now that Palestinian President Yasser Arafat has died, peace may become a reality for Palestinian Christians and Muslims, as well as Israelis. But has this ‘elusive’ Middle East peace ever needed to be elusive in the first place?
Popular analyses say that Arafat should have accepted the much-heralded ‘generous offer’ of former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. After all, Barak had gone farther than any other Israeli leader did in his offer to the Palestinians. But let’s take a step back in history. Former Prime Minister Golda Meir used to say that there wa! s no such thing as a Palestinian. When future Israeli leaders acknowledged the existence and heritage of Palestinians, they were going farther than Israeli leaders had in the past toward peace. When Prime Minister Menachem Begin accepted autonomy for Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories during the infamous signing in 1979 between Egypt and Israel, he had gone farther than any Israeli leader toward peace
And then, there was the 2000 Camp David offer. Nobody has actually seen the offer except the parties at Camp David. But we do know the following: there was no return to the 1967 Green Line; 80% of Israeli settlements would have remained; Palestinian sovereignty in East Jerusalem would have applied to eight neighborhoods; and there was no right of return for the Palestinians forced into exile during Israel’s creation. And do you ever notice how President Bush stresses the creation of a ‘viable’ Palestinian state? The Israeli Gush Shalom’s maps confirm that a future Palestinian state would have looked like Bantustans — populated islands of autonomy with no contiguity or real viability. South African blacks turned down a similar plan by the white Afrikaners many years ago. They didn’t want anything less than the implementation of international laws, and neither do the Palestinians.
The question is ultimately: Should Palestinians be giddy over every offer or acknowledgement that Israel makes because the Israelis are going far by their standards? It’s never been about implementing international law. It’s always about offering the carrots the Israeli government wants to offer. In the meantime, civilians on both sides sit as pawns waiting for this ‘elusive’ peace to be realized.
Quite simply: The only thing that has been required is fully implementing UN resolutions and honoring the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the right of self-determination to every human being. Strangely, Palestinians are supposed to negotiate for this right to determine their own fates. I find this particularly odd because as diverse as our world is, there is one personality trait thing that unites us all and that is a dislike at being told what to do. Are Palestinian Christians and Muslims absent from this human equation?
Finally, it is important to note during this sacred Christian holiday that Palestinian Christians are the ‘Living Stones’ of Christianity for being the direct descendants of the witnesses to the Resurrection. It is not often talked about as it is one of those special privileges that is carried with silent pride. However, I am finding it increasingly necessary to bring this honor up as people continue to view the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as being a Muslim v. Jewish conflict. It is a nationalistic struggle about justice and humanity, which is why Palestinian Christians and Muslims have always been united in resisting the Israeli Occupation and righting the wrongs of the Dispossession of 1948.
As we enter the Christmas season, I hope that everyone pays special homage to the wisdom of the Prince of Peace. Christ once told His followers in the Galilee, ‘Blessed are the Peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.’ That is a message everyone, regardless of religious affiliation, can embrace and appreciate — especially in the Holy Land. Ultimately, peace doesn’t have to be as elusive as it has been portrayed.