Israel and Palestine
General Assembly Action
Since 1948, Presbyterian General Assemblies have been active in calling for a solution to the conflict in the Middle East that would "return to the principle of faithful devotion to the welfare, needs, and rights of both the Jewish and Arab peoples."
While affirming, repeatedly, Israel's right to exist within permanent, recognized, and secure borders, General Assemblies have also recognized Palestinian rights to self-determination, calling for a negotiated settlement of differences, by the parties themselves, where issues and their resolution can be mutually defined and accepted.
In 2003, and again in 2004, the General Assembly made explicit its long term conviction: "An end of the occupation is essential to achieving peace and the common good of the two peoples and three faiths that are deeply rooted in this land."
As a means of pursuing peace and the common good of Israelis and Palestinians, the 2004 General Assembly adopted a seven-part resolution that affirmed its long-standing position against the Occupation and sought to go beyond mere words to taking action to demonstrate its convictions. One of the action steps instructed the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) to initiate a process of phased selective divestment in accordance with General Assembly policy on social investing. In the months since the Assembly met, this action has drawn considerable attention in both church and secular press.
The time line, criteria, and up-to-date reports for this process of corporate engagement are available on the MRTI Web site.
What did the General Assembly do?
Several months before the 2004 Assembly, one of the regional bodies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) called for broad divestment along with an affirmation of the "Geneva Accord" as a practical way forward for the Israel/Palestine peace process, in light of the failure of the "roadmap" for peace.
When the Assembly convened, in June, it found that "the situation and the prospects for a negotiated just peace have so deteriorated that people in the region generally, and particularly the Palestinians, have been driven to the edge of despair and hopelessness."
After discussion, the Assembly adopted an alternate resolution re-iterating previous calls for:
- an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands;
- mutual security guarantees;
- a negotiated, equitable peace;
- an end to attacks on innocent people by both sides;
- the United States to be an even-handed broker for peace;
- a United Nations peacekeeping force in Palestine; and,
- solidarity with our Christian partners in Israel/Palestine.
In addition, the Assembly modified the divestment request and asked the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) to "initiate a process of phased, selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel, in accordance with General Assembly policy on social investing."
Is this consistent with previous General Assembly actions?
The General Assembly has approved numerous resolutions on Israel and Palestine through the years, repeatedly affirming, clearly and unequivocally, Israel's right to exist within permanent, recognized, and secure borders (for example: 1969, 1974, 1977, 1983, 1989). It has deplored the cycle of escalating violence - by both Palestinians and Israelis - which is rooted in Israel's continued occupation of Palestinian territories. Presbyterians have also expressed concern about the loss of innocent lives of Israelis and Palestinians (see "Resolution on the Middle East," 1997, and "Resolution on Israel and Palestine: End the Occupation Now," 2003).
The PC(USA), in particular, and churches of the Reformed tradition, in general, have long grappled with how to be a responsible agent in society. One effective strategy for bringing about positive change in the face of continued injustice, is leveraging the economic power of the church through a responsible and deliberate process of phased, selective divestment. This strategy has been used successfully in South Africa, Sudan, Indonesia, and elsewhere. The General Assembly has continued this emphasis through divestment in corporations engaged in military-related production and tobacco-related businesses.
With respect to divestment strategy and South Africa, specifically, the General Assembly said, "While the focus of this policy statement is on economic strategy, the issue for the church is not just a problem of economics and politics, but of a suffering people who daily experience the added burden of hopelessness and despair." While the specific contexts and dynamics of South African apartheid were different from those in today's Israel, where the issue is occupation, selective divestment has been a proven, responsible strategy to address injustice.
What happens next?
The General Assembly's action on this matter adds another layer of conviction on the policy base Presbyterians have used for decades to work for peace in the region: We confess God's sovereignty over nations, states, governments, and peoples as we call on the Israeli government to end its practice of occupation immediately. We call on the Israeli government, the Palestinian government, and the United States government to abandon approaches that lead to strife and return to the negotiating table where compromises can be made for peace. We have deep concern for our Christian partners in the region, as they serve as agents of hope and reconciliation.
In addition to the commitments, the General Assembly began a very deliberate process, designed to maximize the possibilities for change in corporate and governmental practice, with divestment as a last resort, should other steps in the process fail. For details on the process, go to Mission Responsibility through Investment.
- Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee: August 2005 Update
- Read the Resolution on Israel and Palestine: Phased Selective Divestment and Ending Occupation
- Resource sheet: Socially Responsible Investing: Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI)
- Resource sheet: Guidelines for the Implementation of Phased, Selective Divestment Related to Israel and Palestine
- Mission Responsibility through Investment website
General Assembly Action Resolution on Israel and Palestine: Initiating Divestment and Ending Occupation
The 216th General Assembly (2004) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted to approve this resolution, in response to an overture seeking PC(USA) support for the “Geneva Accord” as a means of moving toward peace between Israel and Palestine:
At the time the Presbytery of St. Augustine approved Item 12-01, support for the “Geneva Accord” urging Israel and the Palestinians to implement the Accord seemed a practicable way forward in light of the derailed “road map,” especially in light of action taken by the 215th General Assembly (2003) strongly urging Israeli and Palestinian leaders “to be serious, active, and diligent about seeking peace for their peoples; or, if they are unwilling or unable, to step down and make room for other leaders who will and can” (Resolution on Israel and Palestine: End the Occupation Now, Recommendation D, Minutes, 2003, Part I, p. 636.).
At this time, however, several months since the approval of the proposed item by said presbytery, the situation and the prospects for a negotiated just peace have so deteriorated that people in the region generally, and particularly the Palestinians, have been driven to the edge of despair and hopelessness.
Therefore, the 216th General Assembly (2004) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) does the following:
1. Confesses the sovereignty of God over all nations, states, governments, and peoples, acknowledging God’s supreme act of love for the whole world manifest in Jesus Christ so that by faith the world might not perish but be saved. In Christ, God has called us to show love, seek peace, and to pursue justice, so that the world might be transformed into a foretaste of God’s peaceable kingdom.
2. Continues to be inspired by the tenacity of hope of our Palestinian Christian partners in the face of ominous, cumulative gloom and foreboding; it affirms that God has not given us a spirit of timidity, nor have we been called to surrender hope to an attitude of despair.
3. Commends the Presbytery of St. Augustine on its concern for a just resolution of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and for moving the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to persist in voicing this concern. The assembly, therefore, welcomes the possibilities for peace contained in the “Geneva Accord,” as a useful and practical approach. It would also be encouraged by other inspired initiatives that could advance the prospects of peace in the Middle East.
4. Reiterates and reaffirms the call of last year’s General Assembly on the Israeli government to “end the occupation now,” asserting that:
a. The occupation must end; it has proven to be at the root of evil acts committed against innocent people on both sides of the conflict.
b. The security of Israel and the Israeli people is inexorably dependent on making peace with their Palestinian neighbors, by negotiating and reaching a just and equitable solution to the conflict that respects international law, human rights, the sanctity of life, and dignity of persons, land, property, safety of home, freedom of movement, the rights of refugees to return to their homeland, the right of a people to determine their political future, and to live in peace and prosperity.
c. Horrific acts of violence and deadly attacks on innocent people, whether carried out by Palestinian “suicide bombers” or by the Israeli military, are abhorrent and inexcusable by all measures, and are a dead-end alternative to a negotiated settlement of the conflict.
d. The United States needs, now more than ever, to become an honest, even-handed broker for peace, and should review its approach to the problem, allowing more room for the more meaningful participation of other members of the U.N.-designated “Quartet” (the United States, Russia, Germany and France) and others;
e. The international community has an obligation to provide physical protection for those isolated by fear and/or by physical and psychological barriers, thus making space for the restoration of security and creating a climate for the resumption of negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. We support the Palestinians’ persistent request to the United Nations to send a peacekeeping force.
5. Vigorously urges the U.S. government, the government of Israel, and the Palestinian leadership to move swiftly, and with resolve, to recognize that the only way out of this chronic and vicious impasse is to abandon all approaches that exacerbate further strife, lay aside arrogant political posturing, and get on with forging negotiated compromises that open a path to peace.
6. Endorses the letter sent on April 19, 2004, by the Stated Clerk, reiterating concerns of our denomination for Christian partners and their institutions that serve as agents of reconciliation and hope, as well as for their Palestinian and Israeli neighbors, in the Holy Land, in the framework of previous statements of the General Assembly.
7. Refers to Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) with instructions to initiate a process of phased selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel, in accordance to General Assembly policy on social investing, and to make appropriate recommendations to the General Assembly Mission Council for action.