Christian groups object to U.S. peace plan

For some of Canada’s largest Christian denominations, U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East “Deal of the Century” is anything but.

In letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Kairos Canada, an umbrella organization that represents 10 churches and religious groups, say the Trump peace plan favours Israel and ignores Palestinians.

Kairos and its member churches urged Trudeau to “publicly and unequivocally” reject the Trump plan.

The plan “contravenes international law and further undermines the human rights of millions of Palestinians,” said the letter to Trudeau from Toronto-based Kairos, an interdenominational group that promotes human rights around the world.

Kairos said it was particularly concerned by the plan’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“As you know, Jerusalem is a site of historical significance to both Israeli and Palestinian nationalities and of religious importance to Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths. Recognizing this, it is essential that the sovereignty of the city be shared by Israelis and Palestinians, and all faith groups must have open and free access to their holy places,” Kairos wrote.

The U.S. plan, unveiled in Washington by Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Jan. 28,  “entrenches the illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories,” Kairos wrote.

Kairos, which is administered by the United Church of Canada, has a long history of problematic relations with Israel. In 2009, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) cut a $7 million grant renewal to the group. Later, then federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney accused the organization of having an anti-Israel agenda.

Last year, Sen. Linda Frum accused Kairos of funnelling tax dollars to a Palestinian women’s group that promotes the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign (BDS).

In a less contentiously worded letter to the prime minister, the Anglican Church of Canada said the peace plan “is far from being a ‘win-win’ for Israelis and Palestinians. Rather, we recognize, with many others, including Canada, (that) peace with justice will not come by discounting or ignoring Palestinian rights and aspirations.”

Most Rev. Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, called for an end to “the occupation of Palestinian lands” and for Palestinians to be “meaningfully involved in planning processes from the beginning.”

The plan “offers nothing to Palestinians but a perpetual state of occupation,” wrote Right Rev. Richard Bott, moderator of the United Church of Canada. “They see it as rewarding illegal land grabbing, and affirming those who promote occupation, annexation and dispossession, while completely discounting and ignoring Palestinian rights and aspirations.”

In its letter, the Presbyterian Church in Canada asked Trudeau’s to reject “this fundamentally flawed ‘deal’ on the world stage.”

The U.S. plan “cannot bring about peace between Israel and Palestine, as it leaves in place and even cements the very thing that furthers conflict: the occupation and the illegal practices that have characterized it,” wrote the church’s moderator, Rev. Amanda Currie.

Peace cannot be “unilaterally imposed,” said Bishop Susan Johnson, National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. “Palestinians must be meaningfully involved as part of any peace process. The recent U.S. plan entrenches the occupation … Ending the occupation is an essential first step for making the journey toward peace.”

All the churches that wrote letters to Trudeau are members of Kairos.

Ottawa Rabbi Reuven Bulka, who has been involved in Christian-Jewish dialogue for decades, said no one expects any proposed peace plan to be accepted by all sides without negotiations. He noted that Arab countries have spoken favourably about the plan.

However, “slamming the door shut on the plan without even being willing to meet at the peace table is not helpful.”

Instead of rejecting the plan, “why not encourage Palestinians to view it as a basis to resume bilateral talks to negotiate final status issues?” asked Mike Fegelman of HonestReporting Canada in a recent letter published in The Hill Times, in response to an opinion piece by Kairos on the U.S. peace plan.