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American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)
Principles for a Just and Lasting Peace Between Palestinians and Israelis

American Friends Service Committee
October 28, 1999

Because of the many political, economic, and social changes that have taken place since the 1989 revision of A Compassionate Peace, the AFSC has felt the need to update and reaffirm its policy regarding the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We believe that an articulated position based upon historic AFSC principles might offer some ways to reshape the peace discourse and allow it to move forward.

From its beginnings in 1917, the American Friends Service Committee has sought to repair the destruction caused by war and violence by relieving and healing its victims. The AFSC has sought to respond to suffering whether it is caused by direct human actions or by oppressive structures that human beings have created. When peacebuilding through humanitarian aid has led the AFSC to enter the political arena, the AFSC, in its support for peacemaking, has sought reconciliation between antagonists, endeavoring to help create the conditions of genuine peace that are based upon the preservation of basic human rights and the restoration of justice. In its role as peacemaker as well as peacebuilder, the AFSC has operated from a nonviolent ethic of care that acknowledges and embraces the humanity on all sides of those in conflict.

The AFSC has approached its work from a spirit of love, but an equally strong motivation for its work has been its commitment to truth. Indeed, only after there is truth can we begin the task of serving justice as well as love. Only after parties in conflict can believe in the possibilities of justice can there be hope for reconciliation. The AFSC believes that in speaking truth, in struggling for justice, and in exhibiting compassion, the organization may help reshape the ways human beings speak about and think about peace and how they act upon those words and thoughts.

The AFSC's long experience in the Middle East, reaching back to the end of World War II, convinces us that looking at issues of war and peace from an ethical and religious perspective can be useful and timely. The AFSC believes that focusing on the precious humanity of those in conflict with one another will open new ways for considering how peace might be achieved and sustained. The Middle East policy of the United States and most of the rest of the Western world, as well as the policy of the Israelis and Palestinians, has for too long accepted the myth that only violence and the threat of violence can produce stability and create peace. The reality is that violence has not brought peace, and the threat of violence has only exacerbated the conflicts.

By definition, the peace for which the AFSC is working will be not merely the absence of war, but the presence of justice - justice between nations, and within nations as well. Because we are worried that not all involved parties are on the road to a peace sustained by justice, we welcome this opportunity to explain our position on some of the most contentious elements in this conflict, including some that have not been addressed at all in the aftermath of Oslo. As we state our position, we hope to make clear that it is informed by a concern for truth and justice, and is shaped by compassion and care.
Components of a Just Peace

1. Self-determination

 Self-determination has been a leading principle in the breakup of colonial empires and in the creation of independent states in the Twentieth Century. The truth is that Israelis have already exercised their right to national self-determination and now have their own state. The Palestinians continue to be denied that right. In accordance with its ethical and religious beliefs and with international law, the AFSC has consistently upheld peoples' rights to self-determination. Specifically, the AFSC affirms the right of both Israelis and Palestinians to live as sovereign peoples in their own homeland, a right that encompasses the possibility of choosing two separate states. We acknowledge that other options such as bi-national state and confederation are being discussed. Ultimately it will be up to both parties to determine national boundaries, but the AFSC believes that the starting point for discussion should be those borders reflected in United Nations resolutions 242 and 338, substantially the borders that were in place before the war of June 1967. Since the issue here is of one land and two peoples, no one's right to self-determination should be exercised at the expense of someone else's. Consideration of this issue should address, in a timely way, the repatriation of refugees. Any settlement of boundaries must be based upon respect for the rule of law and for the right of both peoples to determine their own future. Both parties should be guided by an ethic of reciprocity: what holds true for one side in a conflict should hold true for the other as well. This ethic will help address the very real power imbalance that currently exists between Israelis and Palestinians, an imbalance that works against mutually acceptable and just agreements.

2. Rights

The same principles of reciprocity present in self-determination must also extend to the discussion of human rights, which provide the foundation to any building of peace. Human rights include the freedom to practice one's religion, the freedom of assembly, free speech, free press, the right to education and adequate nutrition, and civil rights for all people, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, political orientation, nationality, or ethnicity. Rights of minorities within the Israeli state and within a future Palestinian state must be safeguarded. Other important rights include the right to legal representation, a fair trial, and protection against discrimination in employment, housing, education, and health care. The AFSC also affirms the right to freedom of movement within borders and freedom from collective punishment, because these rights often have been denied. These rights ought to be secured not only at the end of the peace process, but also to inform the process itself. The AFSC has long contended that means determine ends. Therefore just ends can be accomplished only through just means.

3. Economic Justice and Natural Resources

All parties need to take action to ensure equitable access to resources such as land and water. Fair taxation and distribution of resources are critical elements to establish and maintain peace, not only between Israelis and Palestinians, but also within each separate society. It is important that people, goods, and services be able to move freely in the region. People should have the right to build and live anywhere, but not as a result of unwarranted land confiscation and illegal settlements. Mobility for trade, employment, education, and residence is critical to establishing and sustaining peace. These issues can be addressed before, during, and after any political solution to the conflict.

4. Governance

The AFSC supports the rights of both Palestinians and Israelis to choose their forms of governance. We affirm our support for a democratic process that is accountable to all its people as the surest means of achieving sustainable and just political structures.

5. Security

The foundations of security are to be found in trust, respect, and mutual recognition of the humanity and past and present sufferings of both parties. Security is contingent upon the achievement of self-determination and the promotion and protection of basic human rights. Such security does not currently exist. While it is tempting to suppose that only military strength can achieve and guarantee security, the AFSC has maintained that military might only increases fear and distrust and exacerbates the power differences that already exist between conflicting parties. Consequently, the AFSC supports substantial reduction of armaments to all states in the Middle East, because the availability of arms contributes to the prevalence of violence and causes the use or threat of violence to be the first resort to settle any personal, communal, or national dispute.

6. Status of Jerusalem and Settlements in Gaza and on the West Bank

Since the 1967 war, unilateral Israeli settlement in Jerusalem and on the West Bank and Gaza has been one of the great obstacles to the peace process. The AFSC believes that the building of settlements in the occupied territories, including in the city of Jerusalem, violates Israel's obligations as an occupying power under the terms of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Compensation or restitution to those who have lost their homes and lands by illegal means are topics that must be and have not yet been addressed. Consistent with AFSC's belief that Israel and Palestine is a land for two peoples, Jerusalem must be regarded as a city that can be united but also can be shared by both peoples. Since the status of Jerusalem continues to be a very great obstacle to peace at the present time, the AFSC believes that no party in the conflict should alter the reality on the ground in a unilateral way, as Israel has done with its settlement policy. The AFSC also affirms its support for open access to the city for Palestinians, as well as Israelis, as a religious, political, socio-economic, and residential center, even before the final status of Jerusalem has been determined.

7. Responsibilities of the International Community

It is in the national interest of all countries that there be peace in the Middle East. Countries within the United Nations have already given support for an eventual two-state solution based upon UN Resolution 242. All countries, but especially the United States, should affirm the principles of self-determination in accordance with human rights and international law, and should support the control and reduction of arms into the area and the expansion of economic, non-military aid. Aid should be linked to programs that build democratic infrastructures, secure human rights, and preserve human dignity. The AFSC believes that the world community's goal should be disarmament in the whole region of the Middle East and elsewhere and the implementation of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

The road to peace needs to be carefully re-constructed and followed. Violence and the threat of violence often appear to be short-cuts to reaching the goal. However, as A.J. Muste observed, they are short cuts that become blind alleys. The surest road to peace is the path of empathy, where self interest can give way to shared interest, where separateness can give way to reconciliation, where domination can give way to justice. Helping to build that road and joining with Israelis and Palestinians who choose to walk it, are tasks to which the AFSC continues to dedicate itself.