ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

Bright September

Is the “Declaration of Principles” the beginning of peace in the Middle East?

What happened on the White House lawn on 13 September? A “Declaration of Principles” was signed concerning the first steps toward limited Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza. It was limited, relatively vague and carefully drafted to avoid most of the major, controverted matters.

Was that all that happened on that September day? No, what really happened – I believe – was one of those major turning points in modern history.

What really happened, with the mutual recognition of Israel and the PLO and with the handshake of their leaders, was the hopeful beginning of an irreversible process of peace.

Moralists sometimes speak of the tension between the ideals we hold in our hearts and the daily decisions we have to make in the flawed, limited human situation.

Too much swayed by the circumstances of the immediate situation, we may betray our ideals. Too idealistic, we may become either too demanding or too impractical. A mature choice successfully avoids both extremes.

Finally the Zionist ideal of a Jewish state and the Palestinian ideal of an Arab state – these two conflicting nationalisms – have found some way, admittedly a less than perfect way, to accommodate to the present reality.

Moralists also speak of the overriding importance of a fundamental option, referring to the basic orientation of our lives and hearts.

September in Washington saw a fundamental option for reconciliation and peace, even though a thousand challenges must still be faced.

The Bible gives us two different versions of the entrance of the ancient Hebrew tribes into the Promised Land.

According to The Book of Joshua, it was a rapid conquest. By a series of swift military maneuvers, the land of Canaan fell entirely into the hands of the children of Israel. This version seems almost to good to be true.

The Book of Judges tells a different story. The Israelites gradually settled in the land, living among and with the Canaanites and sharing the land with them for better or worse. This sounds more like what usually happens in history.

The September declaration suggests interpreting contemporary history more along the lines of Judges than Joshua. No one is going to conquer or be conquered; both will share the land for better or worse.

In the Middle East – in fact in most parts of the world – the arranged marriage is common. Sometimes the first glimpse the bride and groom have of each other is at the conclusion of the wedding.

Obviously they do not marry because of love. Love is what, hopefully, they will gradually learn as they live together.

Maybe that White House ceremony was a kind of arranged marriage between Jew and Arab, Israeli and Palestinian. For sure they have not come together out of love, but as they stay together perhaps they will learn its ways.

Thanks be to God for the day and its decision. May it bear much fruit!

Msgr. Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA

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