ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

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

Securing the Agreement

What is the role of our Pontifical Mission in a new Middle East?

Recent events in the Middle East peace process – the famous handshake of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and the “Gaza-Jericho first” agreement – came as a shock to almost everyone, from the folks on the streets to the diplomats in Washington, D.C. The Norwegians, who sponsored the talks, kept a fine secret.

The sudden announcement of this agreement has excited the 1.8 million Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and millions in the diaspora. Excited, for there is renewed hope in a settlement between Israelis and Palestinians. Excited, because hundreds of thousands of dispersed Palestinians may be able to return to their homeland. Excited, because violence may end after decades of occupation.

However this excitement is tempered with caution. As of this writing, armed Israeli settlers continue to vandalize and torch Palestinian houses and cars. Military roadblocks remain in place. Permits are still required for Palestinians to enter Jerusalem, whether for medical care, education, employment or to attend religious services. The Israeli military continues to use anti-tank missiles to destroy homes. In Gaza, authorities continue to cut off electrical power for most neighborhoods. Last October, 11 Palestinians were killed, eight houses demolished, 1,750 trees uprooted, six mosques raided and three Gazan schools closed.

Militant Islamic groups have increased their efforts to sabotage the negotiations. Hamas, the most organized and best financed of these groups, continues to attack both Israeli and Palestinian civilians.

Although countries have pledged funds to the new Palestinian Interim Self Governing Authority, as yet nothing has changed in the day-to-day lives of the people – employment opportunities have not improved; access to health care remains difficult; and travel is almost always denied. The Israeli military has not yet withdrawn, leaving the situation almost exactly as it was before the handshake. Only the economy has been affected – the occupation continues to destroy what remains of the Palestinian economy.

However it is important for us, as Christians, to return to the causes of the excitement. While kept sober by reality, it is vital to support the handshake, to hold on, to encourage the parties to tighten their grip.

While waiting for the billions of pledged dollars, and in the absence of any significant progress, the Pontifical Mission’s Jerusalem office will continue to support Palestinian programs. Economic development, self-reliance projects and the support of cultural programs help sustain the population practically and morally.

Shimon Peres, Israel’s foreign minister said the standard of success in the peace process was not “political victory” but “economic victory.” No “political agreement,” the foreign minister continued, “would last if the people of Gaza and Jericho and the other areas don’t feel a tangible improvement in their living standards.”

Our Jerusalem office, in collaboration with the Palestinian authority and non governmental organizations (NGOs), will assist in absorbing Palestinian laborers from Israel by providing employment opportunities in the West Bank and Gaza. This will help build a strong domestic Palestinian labor market. The Pontifical Mission will also provide funds and assistance to develop Palestine’s infrastructure, including roads, education, sanitation and housing.

Among our objectives in 1994 are support and development of marketing strategies for the Negev Association. We will also organize 12 small businesses and expand 12 existing businesses to employ additional persons. We will assist medium sized industries, introduce new production techniques and research foreign markets. We plan to investigate the manufacture of hearing aids in cooperation with the Gaza Rehabilitation Committee, seek job placement for skilled workers and professionals and subsidize the salaries of social workers. To maintain the Christian Palestinian presence in Jerusalem’s Old City, we will repair 50 homes.

These activities account for $750,000 of the Jerusalem office’s operational budget.

A working relationship with local Palestinian NGOs is necessary to maintain the structures and networks positioned through the years by groups such as the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees, Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees, the Palestinian Hydrology Group, Land and Water Establishment for Studies and Legal Services, and the numerous committees for women and rehabilitation in Gaza.

To continue these relationships, the Pontifical Mission in Jerusalem will develop quality primary health care for non refugee residents of the Occupied Territories, provide funds for the Near East Council of Churches’ Family Health Care Centers in Gaza and fund the Gaza Blood Bank. Our office will continue to support local NGOs’ attempts to reclaim Palestinian land and protect it from confiscation, to increase production, and assist women agricultural engineers and other community-based projects for women.

These objectives account for $450,000 of the operational budget of the Pontifical Mission in Jerusalem.

The Pontifical Mission has also urged the international NGO community to continue its work with local Palestinian agencies (so as not to disrupt the working relationships established during the occupation) until the Declaration of Principles agreement matures in a peace accord permitting the Palestinian economic plans to be implemented.

Palestinian extremism is a reaction to poverty, to a standard of living that is clearly inferior to that of the Israelis. While supporting the local NGOs and the Palestinian Economic Plan, Israeli authorities can be given the opportunity to promote the Declaration of Principles and uphold their end of this agreement. The Israelis must convince the Palestinians that they are not trading military control for economic regulation.

It must be emphasized that the handshake on 13 September represents an agreement of principles, not a peace accord. The Camp David Accord was concluded by a firm grip between Begin and Sadat. With the Israelis and Palestinians, however, the uncertain agreement of Rabin and Arafat reflects the delicate and tenuous whisper of dialogue.

Perhaps it can be said that our role is to hold in partnership the hand of Palestinians and thereby assist Israelis to offer a determined, peaceful and assuring hand.

Brother Donald is vice president of the Pontifical Mission.

Get to know us and stay informed about the impact your support makes.

Nous constatons que votre préférence linguistique est le français.
Voudriez-vous être redirigé sur notre site de langue française?

Oui! Je veux y accéder.

Hemos notado que su idioma preferido es español. ¿Le gustaría ver la página de Asociación Católica para el Bienestar del Cercano Oriente en español?

Vee página en español