Just Peacemaking Initiatives Can Prevent Terrorism


Stassen says the United States must help Israel reverse its settlement policy. Above, a vineyard at the settlement of Tel Shilo, on the Israeli-occupied West Bank. (RNS)
Just war theory or pacifism understood simply as the restraint of war is not likely to provide satisfactory answers. What alternatives does just peacemaking theory raise for Christians to discuss, support and advocate?

The government has shifted $40 billion to military spending. This doesn't include special appropriations for the war on Afghanistan, special appropriations for Homeland Security, and appropriations to the Department of Energy to develop new, usable nuclear weapons and to prepare to resume nuclear bomb testing in violation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

 

Money has been shifted away from programs for education, colleges, the needy, health insurance for children, and other human needs. State budgets are in deficit, so states are making more severe cuts in education and health care.

 

Fear is in the back of many people's minds, and the administration is raising momentum toward war with Iraq. The government has shifted its Middle East policy, siding more with Ariel Sharon's military actions to suppress Palestinians and less with Palestinians' demand for dignity, justice and a viable state. Other nations express anxiety at U.S. unilateralism and withdrawal from treaties.

           

Is it time to discuss initiatives that can decrease the resentment and anger driving people to terrorism? Is it time to turn to just peacemaking theory for help in suggesting preventive initiatives?

           

One reality is the unrivaled military power of the United States. The U.S. military budget is larger than the next eight nations combined. The combination of overwhelming military and economic power weakens the ability of other nations to provide checks and balances against U. S. actions.

 

Furthermore, the spirituality of nationalism that has resulted from 9/11 polarizes the national spirit and disinclines many from questioning the drift, in a way analogous to the polarization in Israel after repeated terrorist attacks.  

           

Just war theory or pacifism understood simply as the restraint of war is not likely to provide satisfactory answers. What alternatives does just peacemaking theory raise for Christians to discuss, support and advocate?

 

Nonviolent Direct Action

 

Arab and Muslim anger over injustice toward Palestinians—perceived as supported by the U.S. government—is the greatest source of widespread resentment, and a major factor in causing terrorism.

 

More Palestinian leaders—like Sami Awad of Bethlehem, who spoke recently at Fuller Seminary—could call for nonviolent direct action instead of terrorism. Israel could choose one city where nonviolent direct action is being organized, such as Bethlehem, and reward it with the self-rule the Oslo Accords promised. It could then expand self-rule, step by step, wherever nonviolent action has some advocates. 

 

Israel and Palestine have begun taking exactly these initiatives, but it is crucial to keep the process going. Presently it is blocked by hawks in the Israeli government, so the United States needs to push firmly.

           

Independent Initiatives or Trust-Building Measures

 

What independent initiative could be taken now? Arafat did call effectively for a halt to terrorist attacks on Dec. 15, 2001, and violence dropped to 20 percent of the previous level for almost two months. Sharon, however, did not reciprocate, but instead attacked in retaliation against the remaining terrorism. The United States could press Arafat to take this initiative again and this time ask firmly for Israeli reciprocation.

 

Palestinians say more Palestinian land keeps being occupied by settlers, more Palestinian orchards and homes keep being bulldozed, and more Israeli bypass roads carve up Palestinian land so that they can hardly travel.

 

The settlements are lavishly subsidized by the Israeli government, so that land and utilities are free. Realism says peace will not come until these settlements are reversed. Polls show most Israelis know that and would support it.

 

But realism also says Ariel Sharon will not relinquish the settlements: His nickname is "bulldozer," he himself is responsible for the settlement policy, and his political power depends on parties of the right committed to the settlement policy. This is a vicious cycle of distrust.

           

The United States gives Israel several billion dollars each year. It should earmark a portion of the aid for buying settlers' homes at something like twice their value, contingent on the settlers returning to Israel and investing the money in housing there, so Israel does benefit from the investment. Not all settlers would sell, but polls indicate most would.

 

Palestinians would finally see the momentum shift toward reducing settlements rather than proliferating them. With such progress, why push terrorism? Politicians need political support before they take initiatives. Here is a role for faith-based groups who want to push for specific and feasible peacemaking initiatives.

 

Conflict Resolution

 

Conflict resolution is instructive for relations with Iraq—another major source of anger against the United States. The United States and United Nations have demanded unhindered inspections for possible weapons of mass destruction, and ongoing monitoring thereafter.

 

Achieving that requires affirmation of the Iraqi government's interest in its own survival. The Clinton administration, however, stated that even if inspections were allowed, it would still seek to topple Saddam Hussein. And the United States blocked talks about easing economic sanctions. That removed Hussein's incentive to allow inspections in hopes of a happier future.

 

The Bush administration has intensified the counter-productive demand, insisting on regime change and vetoing talks regardless of Iraq's request to talk about resuming inspections. Conflict resolution says the United States should offer peace if Iraq allows unhindered inspections and ongoing monitoring afterward. 

 

Sustainable Economic Development, Human Rights and Democracy

 

Poverty—with little hope for improvement—and dictatorial governments—with little hope for peaceful change—are major causes of resentment and anger in countries that produce terrorists. President Bush has advocated a $5 billion increase in economic aid worldwide. That increase is a step in the right direction, and it needs to be implemented in Afghanistan yesterday. 

 

The United States is presently the lowest per capita of the 20 richest nations in giving economic aid. The United States should encourage the pro-democracy forces in Indonesia, Pakistan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Egypt rather than the pro-military and pro-authoritarianism forces.

 

Effectively combating terrorism requires more than its military repression. Police action, yes. Preventive action, definitely yes.

 

Glen Stassen is Lewis Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif.

 

Buy Stassen's book, Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War.

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