After a debate that stretched over the dinner hour, the 222nd General Assembly (2016) approved a lengthy report containing a re-evaluation of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s historic support of a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine.
The document, “Israel-Palestine: For Human Values in the Absence of a Just Peace,” says the PC(USA) “should advance those efforts that best accord with its values . . . including, but not limited to, that of two sovereign states—Israel and Palestine.”
Doug Tilton, who was part of the team that produced the report, described it as “deeply rooted in Reformed theology.” He said it builds on positions held by the PC(USA) since 1949, and “does not abandon support for a two-state solution, but seeks to move us in fresh directions.”
Approval of the report from the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy came with a comment added by the GA Committee on Middle East Issues, affirming a preference for a two-state solution and a desire to stay in conversation with partners in Israel who are working for peace.
In the plenary debate, commissioners approved two amendments to the document that further emphasized the church’s preference for a two-state solution and the desire to stay in conversation with partners in the region.
Commissioners voted down a minority report that would have referred the paper to the Presbyterian Mission Agency for further study and editing, then re-submission to the 223rd General Assembly (2018). They also rejected two attempts to refer the paper to an administrative commission.
Supporters of referral said the tone and rhetoric of the ACSWP paper did not promote reconciliation, and urged more balance in speaking about violence and injustices committed by both Palestinians and Israelis.
Sam Jones, a member of the writing team for ACSWP, agreed that balance is critical. “However, the balance of suffering of Palestinians and Israelis simply does not exist,” he said, noting that Israel is an occupying power with much greater military might than the Palestinians have.
The final document passed by a vote of 429-129.
Also approved by a wide margin after extended debate was an overture urging advocacy for the safety and well-being of the added by the GA Committee on Middle East Issues to ensure that those who oppose the BDS movement be represented in the study.
Commissioners also voted to make the study their response to a commissioner’s resolution calling for the denomination to end outright any affiliation or support of BDS.
Two items from the Committee on Middle East Issues were on the consent agenda approved earlier in the week. One called on the realty company RE/MAX LLC to “do everything within its legal and moral power to stop facilitating the sale and rental of property in Israeli settlement colonies.” The other urged continuing support for the people of the Middle East by encouraging Christian presence, countering religious radicalism, promoting economic development, and promoting long-term stability in the region.