According to Just War theory, it is war that should be considered only as a “Last Resort.” In practice, however, it seems that peace doesn’t get a chance until everything else has failed. And so, even this President, who has his name attached to the rationale for engaging in pre-emptive war, the so-called “Bush Doctrine,” has now, in the last year of his presidency, decided to engage a peace process for the Middle East.
The good news about peacemaking, however, is that first resort or last, there is never a bad time to choose peace over war. Almost 50 nations have been invited to send representatives to a conference this week meeting at Annapolis. While there are many veterans of the protracted struggle for peace in the Middle East who are skeptical that the long-sought peace in that region can be achieved in what remains of this president’s term, and they are probably right, that does not mean this effort is in vain.
There is another theory, called Just Peace, developed by 23 Christian scholars and peace activists who worked together for over a decade. Just Peace has ten “practice norms” that, when consistently and appropriately applied, can lead to the just and equitable resolution of conflict. This list, with commentary, can be found in the volume “JustPeacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War,” edited by Glen Stassen. As one of the architects and authors of the ten Just Peace strategies, I would like to share a few suggestions out of the ten Just Peace practice norms for the President and his team as they engage this peace process.
The large number of countries represented at the meeting is a genuine strength. Peace and security in the Middle East will not come about solely through the efforts of Israel and the Palestinians. Arab support is essential as is that of the European states and Russia. Just Peace requires consistent effort to Work with emerging cooperative forces. The U.N. Secretary General is attending and Just Peace requires that we Strengthen the United Nations, instead of undermining it.
Unfortunately, President Bush announced his intention to leave immediately after the opening welcome at Annapolis. For this effort to succeed, even modestly, the President must actually demonstrate by his actions that he is personally committed to be in the work for the duration. Similarly, Middle East arms deals or a “declaration of principles” that seems to require an “enduring” U.S. presence in Iraq go the other way. The President needs to cancel all arms sales to countries in this region as part of the practice to reduce the weapons trade and signal a willingness to get out of Iraq as the peace process takes hold as a way to reduce threat.
Finally, there is a modest sign that the most powerful of Just Peace practices was engaged today: Take independent initiatives. At the formal opening of the peace conference, the parties announced that negotiations would start Dec. 12. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert took the opportunity rarely available to parties in conflict in this region to speak directly to others, especially to Arab officials in the hall. These included the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, Saud al-Faisal, and Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Fayssal Mekdad. He referred to the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, as “my friend” and said Israelis understand the humiliations that have been inflicted on Palestinians.
“We are not indifferent to the suffering,” he said. “The time has come. We want peace…We are prepared to make a painful compromise.”
That’s just five of the practices of Just Peace. Imagine what would happen if these leaders chose to use all ten.
On Faith panelist Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is president of Chicago Theological Seminary.