Monday, November 26, 2007


The Annapolis conference looking toward the components of a comprehensive Israel-Palestine solution begins in Maryland, USA, tomorrow - just beyond the shadow of the White House in Washington DC. It is easy to be cynical about such exercises and it must be admitted that the history of Western-sponsored diplomatic gatherings has not been positive. Even getting the key figures round the table is incredibly tough, with political manoeuvring and suspicion the order of the day. Some also see the event as little more than a ploy by the United States to go on meddling. Neo-con apostle John Bolton gave a verbal Exocet to any simple view on that on BBC Radio 4 this morning. He says that Annapolis should never have been allowed to happen, since it just highlights US impotence - by which he means any willingness to make concessions to other interests and concerns.

Bolton pours cold water on diplomacy (specifically the work of the British, French and Germans on Iran, which he has done his level best to undermine in the media) and appears to believe that the solution to most intractable geopolitical challenges is more bombing. The more rationalisations he tries to offer for this philosophy, the chillingly madder he sounds. To almost everyone but John Bolton, that is. Even the Bush administration shudders when you mention him these days; though apparently BBC researchers think giving him a chance to plug his book unchallenged (he's a great operator, and made mincemeat of his interviewer) is just fine. Go figure. Former British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, hardly a radical, had to try not to be out-rightly dismissive later on in the same programme.

Meanwhile, a voice of sanity in the immense, complex and troubling questions surrounding the conference comes from Dr Harry Hagopian in Annapolis: Hope or scepticism for Israel-Palestine? I was privileged to get to know Harry a little when I worked for Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and had regular contact with the CTBI Middle East Forum. It is good to be in touch again via Ekklesia. Harry is an impressive and committed man, both intellectually and spiritually, and he has a good deal of experience. His website, Epektasis, is well worth checking out. Harry is an international lawyer with a specialism in Conflict Resolution. He promotes the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, as well as being ecumenical, legal and political consultant to the Armenian Apostolic Church and political lobbyist to the Campaign for Recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

An Armenian from Jerusalem, Harry worked until 2001 as executive director of the Middle East Council of Churches. He also worked for the Jerusalem Inter-Church Committee. During this dual tenure, he was a principal ecumenical negotiator on behalf of the JICC, articulating the Churches’ collective position over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly relating to Oslo and subsequent chapters of political negotiations. With MECC he helped set up humanitarian aid programme for the refugees of Iran after the Gillan earthquake in 1990, and then again for the refugees from Iraq after the first Gulf war of 1991.

See also the Nonviolence pages of the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem. (With thanks and acknowledgments to them for the image of Jerusalem)

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