Sunday, September 23, 2007


Yup, changing the terms of failed engagements, challenging over-vested interests and reaching out for new non-confrontational paradigms. That ought to be a desirable thing. And in this case I'm not just talking about Richard Dawkins and his acolytes, he says with a smile (I've been away for ten days, so those expecting comments and response on that one will have to wait a wee while longer - though they might read this, inter alia, in the meantime).

No, I'm thinking of Israel-Palestine. My friend Michael Marten, who is an extremely well-resourced academic and commentator in this area, has a good piece on this for Ekklesia - (Transformational diplomacy and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) which has gone up in advance of next week's Quartet powers (UN, Russia, Europe and USA) meeting.

There is an increasing body of opinion voicing serious concern at government policy in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the International Crisis Group, several of the major churches, and the UK parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee. All are calling at different levels for a recognition that having urged the Palestinians to hold elections despite the ongoing occupation, it behoves the West to ‘urgently consider ways of engaging politically with moderate elements’ within Hamas (FASC).

Not communicating with those who do not share our world view will not lead to peaceful resolution of conflicts, but rather empower those who already feel that the West is neither trustworthy nor sincere in its desire for democratic and peaceful change.

The potential transformation of relationships that can come about through open and honest meetings with (supposed) opponents is something that many within the churches, involved for example with ecumenical and interfaith groups, will be able to bear witness to. It is the activities of ordinary people, involved in what are often extraordinary acts of rapprochement and reconciliation, that can be used as examples in exercising pressure on those in positions of authority, as demonstrated on a very public level by the recent involvement of South African and Northern Irish politicians in helping Iraqi politicians meet and discuss issues between them.

Those who take an interest in the situation in the Middle East should take heart from the fact that the renewed prominence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not due solely to weariness with the disastrous everyday toll of death and destruction emerging from Iraq, but is also due to the continued pressure from the countless people who are working hard to change attitudes to the conflict. Some of these actions, such as the growing boycott of Israeli goods, are almost certainly completely ineffective in direct power-political or economic terms, but are a tremendous tool for communicating the issues to those unaware of them, as well as empowering those involved.

Civil society can effect change – it is already doing so – and the churches need to continue to play their part in this. As non-party political participants in the wider political scene in this country they occupy an important role, but they do that often through the work, not of the church hierarchies, but through the engagement and dedication of ordinary members – the civil society of the churches, one might say.

Encouraging the government to listen to advice from regional experts rather than partisan envoys, engaging with ‘the enemy’ (as a certain Palestinian Jew encouraged us to do 2000 years ago), treating Occupier and Occupied as such and working towards enabling a just resolution of the conflict between them – these and more are things that the churches and its members, together with the other elements of our wider civil society (Muslim, secular and so on), can continue to pursue and involve others in.

Now that really would be ‘transformational diplomacy’.

1 comment:

Doug said...

What this article hits me with is the realisation as to how often I mentally accept the default mode of public discourse that talking with the "enemy" is not an option that could be considered by "realists".

It is helpful to be continually reminded that as a Christian I do not need to accept this way of thinking. Thanks for the encouragement not to be 'conformed to thsi world" but remain open to the transformation of such radical ideas as loving our enemies, or at least talking to them.