Bishop of Southwark on Middle East Peace and Role of Churches in Delivering Aid

On Thursday 28th May the Bishop of Southwark, Rt Rev Christopher Chessun, spoke during the debate on the Queen’s Speech. He focused on the Middle East, the importance of a two-state solution for Israel/Palestine and the partnership role between churches and Government in delivering overseas aid. The full text of his speech is below and a video can be viewed here.

Bp Southwark May 2015The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, it was encouraging to hear the commitment of Her Majesty’s Government in the gracious Speech to various foreign policy objectives in the Middle East. The chaos in the Middle East is all too familiar and arises not from isolated pockets of trouble but from multiple interconnected challenges. Syria’s misery shows no sign of ending; Libya appears torn in half; ISIS continues to make gains in Iraq; and Yemen appears to be sliding into a humanitarian crisis. We are confronted by a Middle East that is coming apart at the seams. These are problems that will not just evaporate. They need careful attention and strategic patience, and I encourage Her Majesty’s Government to remain vigilant to broader aims throughout the region, as well as giving appropriate attention to the constituent parts.

ISIS, with its violent and murderous ideology and murderous approach to those in its way, is causing fear and instability well beyond its current reach. This must continue to be an urgent priority. If this form of highly organised, ruthless terrorism is to be defeated, we will need to work closely with allies in the United States as well as more broadly in Europe.

Although media and political attention is understandably fixed on addressing the instability in Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, it is important that we do not lose sight of efforts to secure a two-state solution that provides for the security of Israel, justice for the Palestinians and peace for all. This is a vital strand of the interconnectedness of the region, and bold moves in seeking to unlock this situation are needed if Israel’s security is to be guaranteed and the Palestinians enabled to flourish. This continues to be a vital building block for wider peace throughout the region and for the defeat of terrorism. Despite the expansion of Israel’s settlement programme and the unpromising signs emerging from the new Israeli Government, I trust that Her Majesty’s Government will remain committed to encouraging Israel to fulfil its international obligations as well as to the concept of a two-state solution. There remains no better alternative to the probability of the establishment of either a non-Jewish democracy or a Jewish non-democracy. At a time when the situation on the ground grows ever more dangerous, the Government need to look imaginatively at ways to move beyond the current stalemate.

The status of Palestine is likely to be an issue that reappears once again before the UN Security Council. I sincerely hope that the Government will be supportive of any draft resolution that creates greater equivalence between Israel and Palestine as political entities in the framework of any negotiations. The absence of progress will only allow for extremism to ferment. Indeed, I hope that the Government will draw encouragement from the growing support for the recognition of Palestine, in your Lordships’ House as well as in the wider international community. The Holy See’s recent intervention is but the latest example of this. The recognition of Palestine and upholding Israel’s security will be important stepping stones in securing a long-term peace in the Middle East.

I turn to international development, which did not feature in the gracious Speech, although it was good to hear the noble Earl, Lord Howe, speak on the subject at the start of the debate. It is evident that, even though a fragile cross-party consensus now exists in support of the 0.7% development budget, the public at large remain—if polls are to be believed—suspicious and doubtful of its benefits. Given this scepticism, the transition later this year to an agenda based on sustainable development goals provides a window of opportunity for the Government to publish a new White Paper on international development. It is now eight years since the Department for International Development published its last White Paper and we need a new narrative on international development that reflects the changed reality we now face and has traction with the wider public.

As part of this exercise, we might look again at the role that faith communities play in delivering aid on the ground and in building resilient communities, and the scope for closer partnership. The last Government made some good progress in this area, not least with their faith partnership principles of 2012, but the potential benefits of strategic collaboration between the Department for International Development and the church remain sadly largely untapped. I know only too well from my own links and those of my diocese with Zimbabwe the role that the church can play in challenging circumstances. As that beautiful country once again faces challenges over feeding its population, and given the growing nervousness of what will happen when the Mugabe regime draws to a close, I sincerely hope that the Government will stand ready to meet relief and development needs in that place as well as more widely across the globe.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con):  [Extract] ..In the coming years we will continue to champion freedom of religion or belief at the Foreign Office, including support—I can say to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark—for persecuted Christians in the Middle East. Where freedom of religion or belief is protected, extremist ideologies should not be able to take root…


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