The following brief has been issued by the World Council of Churches, providing information to help churches discern what is happening in Israel and Palestine now and in the months ahead. It is also an invitation for member churches and ecumenical partners to watch, pray and act for peace guided by the deep commitment within the World Council of Churches (WCC) fellowship to the legitimate rights and wellbeing of both Israelis and Palestinians. Our purpose in writing is to assist with evaluation of the pullout of settlers and soldiers from Gaza, an event that cannot be understood in isolation. Below are seven signs to watch for - in Gaza and other conflict zones - that will indicate in the months ahead whether the withdrawal enhances prospects for peace. Sign One: Life for the residents of Gaza improves, including human rights After the pullout, some 1,400,000 people in one of the most densely populated places on earth are to receive a small increase in physical, psychological, political and economic space. About 8,000 more privileged people, the settlers, are being moved. Thankfully, it was done in a manner that respects their dignity. To monitor this sign, watch Gaza to see if: Vacated land is used for the benefit of needy Gazans. Land, sea and air links open to the outside world, especially to the West Bank, with international oversight to ensure proper functioning as well as fair and effective security measures Sign Two: The people evacuated from Gaza are resettled within Israel's pre-1967 borders Where the settlers from Gaza are relocated will be one of the clearest indicators of overall prospects for peace. Their new locations will be physical evidence of future intentions toward other occupied land, the issue at the heart of the conflict. What to watch for: How many Gaza settlers will resettle within Israel's pre-1967 borders? (Reports indicate that about half the evacuees will be moved from Gaza to other still-occupied territory.) Sign Three: From now on, decisions affecting both sides are negotiated equitably between the two sides Equitable negotiations would be an undeniable sign for peace. They would send a vital signal that the use of violence by either side will no longer determine the course of events. Equitable negotiations would also lend much-needed credibility to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a leader taking political risks for peace with little to show for it so far. Equitable negotiations on core issues are long overdue, including: The route of the Israel's barrier versus Palestinian land and water rights. The final status of Jerusalem. Sign Four: Both sides treat Jerusalem as a shared and open city This sign would show whether Jerusalem is to be home for both its peoples. Palestinian residents of greater East Jerusalem would again be able to live there, work there, travel in their own communities, reach their holy sites, receive visitors from the West Bank and visit the West Bank in return. The sealing-off of greater Jerusalem, an old plan, is now nearing completion and with it these everyday options have all but disappeared for most of East Jerusalem's Palestinian citizens. Churches of Jerusalem are suffering along with their neighbours. As an indicator for peace, any good that comes out of the Gaza withdrawal will pale in the long term unless current trends in and around Jerusalem are reversed. Positive evidence for this sign would include: Palestinians have free access to their communities in East Jerusalem while Israel assures the security of its citizens in accordance with international law. Construction stops on the barrier wall, Israeli settlements and Jewish neighbourhoods in greater East Jerusalem and their future is negotiated Sign Five: Palestinians in the West Bank are able to travel between their communities and to Gaza Freedom of movement is necessary for a viable society and economy, and is a basic human right. It also spurs hope. If occupation controls of movement are lifted and people can again reach jobs, schools and hospitals, conditions of everyday life would improve, daily humiliations would disappear, extremism would lose its power, and moderates could slowly regain their footing and influence. What evidence to watch for here? The hundreds of checkpoints and barriers within the occupied territories are removed Sign Six: The international community meets its obligations to bring peace The world's leading nations bear central responsibility to enforce international law and have the essential third-party role of ensuring progress toward peace. When the US, for example, has spoken specifically and forcefully against unilateral actions that violate the Geneva Conventions, it has been effective. Others, including churches, also have considerable capacity for promoting international law as the basis for peace. One positive indicator to watch for here: The US administration uses its authority to focus Israeli and Palestinian leaders on issues such as sharing Jerusalem, trading land for peace, and adhering to international law as the basis for peace Sign Seven: Israelis become more secure Good faith and concrete measures like those above may well be the only sustainable security policy for Israel. If abuses related to the occupation are corrected, injustices that fuel conflict would decrease and popular confidence in a negotiated peace could be regained. After years on the margins, people on both sides committed to non-violent, law-based solutions could again be in a position to take the political initiative. Cease-fires hold; they are repaired whenever they break down. Both sides handle violent acts as criminal acts, under the law It is important to note what these seven future signs of peace have to do with the pullout from Gaza now. First, they all address serious threats to peace that have intensified while international attention has focused on Gaza. If the occupation ends in one place but is being strengthened in many other places, the overall situation has actually become worse. Second, the policy of encouraging people to settle on occupied territory has caught people up in a policy of control and conquest that will not bring peace. The Gaza withdrawal - affecting less than two percent of the settlers - dramatically demonstrated the high personal costs for those involved in this political strategy. The signs above turn attention now to the other 98 percent of the people involved. Finally, the essential legal framework for resolving the conflict is the same in Gaza and the other places mentioned. It is the body of international law that deals with foreign occupations, especially the Geneva Conventions and relevant United Nations resolutions. In such a long and bitter conflict we must not turn our back on any initiative that could help bring peace, like the Gaza pullout, but nor can we turn a blind eye to actions that perpetuate injustice in the name of peace and security. We believe that unilateral actions conceived to promote the interests of one group over another will never bring peace. The biblical prophets warn us of those who cry 'Peace, peace, where there is no peace'. We are convinced that, by replacing unilateral actions with negotiations under international supervision and the rule of law, a just peace agreement can be concluded. Then all who live in Gaza, Jerusalem, the West Bank and Israel, and all of us, will see real signs of peace. Peter Weiderud Director Commission of the Churches on International Affairs
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