Palestinian girls light candles at St Joseph Church in the West Bank town of Jifna. Palestinians doubt that Israel would easily back away from territory it has occupied for decades. CNS photo

JERUSALEM – US President Barack Obama’s call for Israeli and Palestinian states based on Israel’s 1967 borders met with a largely wary response from Palestinian Christians.

While the Palestinians welcomed his proposal – which includes mutually agreed-upon land swaps – in May 19 and 22 speeches, they doubted that Israel would easily back away from Palestinian territory it has occupied for nearly 44 years.

Mr Sami Awad, executive director of the Holy Land Trust and a promoter of nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, called Mr Obama’s proposal “symbolic”.

“It was like every other president, he pushes the envelope a bit more than the previous president. That’s not enough,” he said.

Mr Awad added that the plight of Palestinian refugees must be recognised and solved.

As an activist, Awad also expressed disappointment that Mr Obama failed to acknowledge what he believes to be a growing Palestinian nonviolence movement that seeks to challenge Israeli policy.

Mr Hussam Elias, an Arab Catholic living in Cana, Israel, who directs the Galilee programme for the Jerusalem Centre for Jewish-Christian Relations, noted that the crucial issue of the final status of Jerusalem had been left out of Mr Obama’s talks, even though settling on the city’s future is key to reaching a final resolution to the conflict.

Even so, Mr Obama’s speeches were an indication that “the time had come” for Palestinians and Israelis to make serious moves toward a final and justice peace agreement, Mr Elias said.

“It is clear that with the revolutions in the Middle East and all the social and political changes taking place, the current situation cannot continue,” he said. “Israel needs to decide if it wants to be a part of the new Middle East or to be left out alone.”

Fr Raed Abusahlia, priest of Holy Redeemer Church in the West Bank village of Taybeh, said most of his parishioners believed the Americans and Israelis were “wasting their time” and preferred to see concrete action to bring about peace.

“We will continue our regular daily life,” he said.

Fr Abusahlia said he was pleased with Mr Obama’s call for a two-state solution with Israel’s 1967 borders as a starting point for talks, but the priest said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strong opposition was predictable.

The priest also said the existence of one state would suffice as long as all residents – Jews, Christians, Druze and Muslims alike – lived in equality. He expressed doubt that most Israelis, who insist on recognition of the Jewish nature of Israel, would accept such a proposition.

Fr Vincent Nagle, assistant parish priest at Holy Family Parish in Ramallah, said that although there was some interest among parishioners when Mr Obama specifically mentioned the 1967 borders, most people are “jaded and not willing to allow themselves to be vulnerable.”

He said he found most parishioners to be cynical about the initiatives rather than expressing optimism only to be disappointed when they fail. - CNS

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