Tuesday, August 29, 2006

“A Decalogue for Peace in the Middle East”

Jesuit Priest, Samir Khalil Samir, who was born in Egypt, is a polyglot who speaks Arab, Italian, and French, and who lived for many years in Lebanon, where he is still a professor at the Université Saint-Joseph in Beirut. He also teaches at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, as well as at the Jesuit theological faculty in Paris. He is the founder and director of the Centre de Documentation et de Recherches Arabes Chretiennes, located at the Université Saint-Joseph.

Fr. Samir is well-known and respected by the Holy Father, who called upon him to participate in last September’s Schülerkreis, an annual gathering of the Pope's former doctoral students in which they meet for two or three days to discuss a specific topic. Prior to his ascending the throne of Peter, these meetings were usually held in a monastery. Last year, and again this year, the symposia are held at Castel Gondolfo, the Pope's residence outside Rome, where popes traditionally spend the month of August. According to Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ, a former student and participant, as paraphrased by John Allen, "the discussions are informal and free-flowing, sometimes stretching over dinner and into a few glasses of beer or wine." Fr. Samir participated in last year’s gathering as an expert on the Islamic understanding of God as derived from the Qur’an. The broader subject of the gathering was the role of Islam in secular societies. This year the group will discuss evolution.

In the wake of the recent hostilities in Israel and Lebanon, Fr. Samir has proposed "a Decalogue of Peace in the Middle East." The entire text can be read in English on the Chiesa web-site, an invaluable resource driven by veteran Vatican expert Sandro Magister: Fr. Samir: "A Decalogue for Peace in the Middle East. As Magister observes, Fr. Samir's document is "highly interesting to read" because he addresses forthrightly the great disruption caused in the region by the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, which was only made possible by the partition of Palestine, which displaced thousands. Lest a misunderstanding arise, Fr. Samir is committed to the legitimacy and on-going existence of Israel as a state. To that end he writes: "partition is a historical fact, born of an international decision. The existence of two states, Israeli and Palestinian, is an indisputable reality, legitimated by the United Nations. One cannot call it into question. All decisions were accepted as legal by the international community. That is why any solution to the conflict that does not completely respect the international legality of all the resolutions of the United Nations will not lead to peace. "

Below are the 10 points of Fr. Samir's "little" Decalogue, as published in Chiesa and translated by Fr. Wafik Nasry, S.J:

"1. Create a Palestinian state based on the international borders before the 1967 war (some final adjustments will have to be made, with common agreement between Israel and Palestine).

2. Grant the right of return to the Palestinians as was recognized by UN resolution 194 of the general assembly. This should be first recognized in principle, then a discussion of a limited return and compensation guaranteed by the international community for others should follow.

3. Israeli settlements could remain for a limited period (e.g. ten years) under Israeli sovereignty. The settlers will then have to decide whether to return to Israel or to remain under Palestinian sovereignty, as did the 160,000 Palestinians who have already decided to live under Israeli sovereignty.

4. Official recognition and exchange of ambassadors between each state of the Middle East (including Turkey, Iran, Syria, Iraq) is necessary. All nations must officially recognize the borders of the other states as final, and exchange ambassadors with these states.

5. Install a “robust” international force where peace is not yet fully achieved in order to control the traffic of weapons between nations; in particular between Israel and Palestine, Israel and Lebanon, Lebanon and Syria, Syria and Iraq, Iran and Iraq, Turkey and Iraq. This international force should be posted on the both sides of the international borders.

6. Help the various militarily weak states to develop sufficiently strong national armies to ensure the safety of their citizens and disarm all other groups, especially militias and settlers. At the same time, take steps to reduce military investments in the region and control military power.

7. The release of the prisoners of other states and ensuring their return to their proper countries with exchange agreements, in particular between Israel and Palestine, Israel and Lebanon, Lebanon and Syria.

8. The creation of an international commission to solve the problem of water resources in an equitable manner in this region is an essential condition for the development of peace and to reduce the cause of the frequent conflicts.

9. The creation of an international commission that would include Israel and Palestine to discuss the fate of the city of Jerusalem, which each state legitimately wishes to claim as its capital. Security, liberty, accessibility and freedom of movement must be guaranteed by an international accord for the entire city and all its holy sites, for they are a universal heritage and must be part of the international agreement.

10. Launch the project for a Middle East Union (MEU) among all the states of the region that are willing to live in peace. Establish legal, economic, political, military and cultural conditions for membership in the regional organization; organize meetings between states of the area; sign agreements of peace, bilateral or multilateral, for long periods (10 to 20 years). One will be able to find many guiding points for such a Middle East organization from the experiment of the EU."

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