Finding Security in the Peace of Our Neighbors: Perspectives on the Middle East

IMES Note

2012 has been a big year for the Institute of Middle East Studies. In June we hosted our 9th annual Middle East Conference, titled ‘Love Your Neighbour as Yourself: The Church & the Palestinian in Light of God’s Command for Justice and Compassion’. In July we launched our very own blog site. We then launched our new Masters degree in Middle East and North African Studies. It has been a busy, but very exciting year!

As we approach the end of 2012, we would like to thank you for your support and encouragement. IMES is seeking to further a discussion within our mandate: To bring about positive transformation in thinking and practice between Christians and Muslims in the Middle East and beyond. Your involvement in this discussion is critical. We look forward to continuing this discussion in the coming year. Please do send us your thoughts by responding to posts on this blog.

This week we have the pleasure of welcoming Prof. Glen Stassen as a guest contributor. Glen is Professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary, author of ‘Kingdom Ethics’, with David Gushee (2003), and co-editor of ‘Just Peacemaking: The New Paradigm for Ethics of Peace and War’ (2008). He was also one of our main speakers at Middle East Conference this year. Glen leads the Just Peacemaking Initiative [http://justpeacemaking.org] based at Fuller.

Glen’s post will be the final one of this year, as IMES will be taking a break. Look out for Martin Accad’s first post of 2013, which will be available on Thursday 10th January 2013.

We wish you all a joyous Christmas, and a peace-filled 2013.

The IMES Team

By Glen Stassen

In my 1992 Just Peacemaking book proposing just peacemaking theory, which led to the consensus Just Peacemaking: The New Paradigm for the Ethics of Peace and War (1998/2003/2008), I wrote: “Rational policy must offer adversaries ways to affirm their valid interest in guarding their own security…. We can increase our security only when we consider their security.” This is called “security partnership” or “common security.” Like it or not, we are tied together in this globalizing world.

Furthermore, Just Peacemaking says adversaries must talk, must practice conflict resolution, as Jesus said in Matt. 5:21-25. In talking, they must take their adversaries’ interests into account. Merely negotiating “for show, seeking to anesthetize the people who want peace but offering terms designed to be rejected by their adversaries… is not the talk and the listening of conflict resolution.”

In Iran, Israel and the United States see a dangerous adversary. It’s true. But realities are changing so dramatically that we could see a surprising game-changing opportunity for achieving human rights and common security for Palestine and Israel, both.

President George W. Bush called Iraq, Iran, and North Korea “the axis of evil,” and soon attacked Iraq. North Korea then moved to acquire nuclear weapons to deter a similar attack on them, and Iran may be doing likewise.

Iran has also been arming Hamas, Hezbollah, and Assad in Syria, so Israel would fear that attacking Iran would entangle them in a dangerous four-front war.

But the Arab spring is changing things dramatically.

Hamas is a younger sibling of the Muslim Brotherhood: Egypt’s Morsi has clout with Hamas. Morsi was already persuading Hamas to agree to a truce with Israel prior to Israel’s “cast lead” attack on Gaza.

“The decision to kill Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari, which was the opening shot of the operation, was made a few hours [after Jabari] had received a draft of an agreement for a permanent cease-fire with Israel, and he was apparently expected to reply to it affirmatively.” Israel’s “decision makers, including the defense minister and perhaps also Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, knew about Jabari’s role in advancing a permanent cease-fire agreement.” Israel killed Jabari because they “decided a cease-fire would be undesirable for Israel at this time, and that attacking Hamas would be preferable.” (“Why did Israel kill Jabari?”Reuven Pedatzur, Haaretz, Dec. 4, 2012)

But then Morsi and U. S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton persuaded Hamas to agree to a truce with Israel, and pressured Israel to concur. And now Iran’s ally in Syria, Assad, is going down. And Hamas has turned against Assad. Iran hates that; it decreases the deterrent value of Hamas and Syria for Iran’s security.

Iran also hates the internationally supported economic sanctions that are isolating Iran internationally and devastating their economy.

Iran must be asking how to adjust their policies to cope with these multiple changes in their security and economy.

The Obama administration and its European allies have finally agreed to talk with Iran—after thirty years of self-defeating and self-disempowering refusal to talk. (He didn’t win the Nobel Peace Award and endorse just peacemaking for nothing.) They have agreed to take seriously Iran’s face-saving demand to be allowed to enrich uranium to 3.5% for generating the electricity they need. In return, they demand thorough inspections by the International Atomic Energy Commission to assure that Iran does not enrich to the 85% needed for nuclear bombs. Both sides are beginning to take each other’s security concerns seriously.

One more step is needed: The U.S. and Europeans need to offer Iran restoration to good international relations and a U.S. guarantee not to attack Iran if it keeps the nuclear agreement and withdraws from supporting violence against Israel by Hamas and Hezbollah. (This is what I suggested to president Ahmadinejad the one time I had a chance to dialogue with him; he called a break in the discussion and thought long and hard about how to answer.)

Then the big breakthrough for peace with Iran will be more likely, because it is what they need for their own security. This will be a huge accomplishment for the winner of the Nobel Peace Award, president Obama, who in his Nobel Award address endorsed all ten practices of just peacemaking. It will greatly strengthen Obama’s determination to halt Israel’s expansion of settlements in occupied Palestine, and thus to begin negotiations for an agreement that can bring both Israel and Palestine the human right to a secure state.

Combine that with Morsi’s pressing Hamas to join with West Bank Palestinians in renouncing violence against Israel. Then Israel will feel less encircled by hostile enemies—with the dramatic changes in Hamas, Iran, and Syria, and with the PLO already having halted violence for a decade now and recognizing Israel’s right to exist. In my original Just Peacemaking, I wrote, “When a nation feels excluded, isolated, and encircled, as Germany did after World War I and Israel does now, it can cause internal instability and external warmaking.”

These dramatic changes will open the door to Israel’s recalculating its own security interests. Israel could finally decide it will be more secure if it follows what the prophets call for—make peace with its neighbors. There is no guarantee, but Isaiah tells us that God is doing new things. I pray for that almost every day. Thank God for the Prince of Peace this Christmas!

2 thoughts on “Finding Security in the Peace of Our Neighbors: Perspectives on the Middle East

  1. This was an excellent commentary on the situation, and educational as always, thank you! I only hope that all sides can understand your point about having security when the other parties have security.

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