Christian Aid Sees Hope in Continued Palestinian Peace Effort “It is not too late to seize the opportunity for a revival of the peace process.”

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, left, listens as he stands besides the new Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, at the QEII conference centre in London, Tuesday March 1, 2005, during an international conference on Palestine.

Amid suicide bombings and Israeli military activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the one-day global conference on Palestinian reform held in London on Tuesday went a long way in reigniting hope in the ongoing peace process in the West Bank. Christian Aid issued a statement yesterday saying that “it is not too late to seize the opportunity for a revival of the peace process.”

The conference, chaired by the British Prime Minister Tony Blair drew very high levels of attendance, including EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, World Bank president James Wolfenson, and foreign ministers from France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates.

Speaking to the 30 international delegates, the newly elected Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas pledged to implement tighter security and better government. In particular, he has said that he will demonstrate his commitment to cracking down on Israeli militant groups. He added that the peace process should give Palestinians “confidence that the occupation…will end without delay”.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in the closing statement that the only way to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is through direct talks leading to “a safe and secure Israel and a sovereign, independent, viable, democratic and territorially contiguous Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.”

The London Conference also acknowledged the importance of international economic aid to advance the peace process with Israel. Government donors on Tuesday pledged US$1.2 billion for the Palestinian government during 2005, Palestinian finance minister Salam Fayyadh said.

“We are very satisfied with the results…We hoped to get political and economic support from the international community, and thank God, we got it,” Abbas said.

Christian Aid gave a representation of the views from Palestinian Christians in its statement. Bernard Sabella of the Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees, Middle East Council of Churches says, “The biggest stumbling block [to peace] is the reality of continued occupation. If Israel wants real peace it must not continue holding onto settlements in the occupied territories, and exerting full control over Palestinian lives.”

The churches in the Middle East have urged the Palestinian leader Abbas to insert pressure on Israel so that it complies with its obligations for a democratic Palestinian state to be established. The actions required from Israel include dismantling settlements, lifting closures and easing restrictions on the movement of Palestinians and goods.

Christian Aid Partner, the YWCA Palestine lamented that very often the actions proposed for peace have not resolved the actual problem. For instance, after the election of the new Palestinian leader Abbas in early February, Israel announced the release of some Palestinian prisoners, but the main security measures from Israeli militants such as roadblocks and
movement restrictions in the West Bank remain in place.

“We are tired,” explains Abla Nasir of the YWCA Palestine, “Tired of momentary gestures that do not even reach the core of the important issues that could bring about a lasting peace with justice.”

Many other Christian Aid Partners also reported that more civilians have died and residential areas have been shelled by the Israeli Defence Forces. Construction of the separation barrier, despite minor route changes, continues to confiscate Palestinian land in the West Bank.

Despite all these, hope is still in the hearts of Palestinian Christians. “We have to keep hoping because without hope our dreams for a better future for our children will end,” says Abla. “Who does not want a better future for their children?”