Uncomfortable questions that Churches for Middle East Peace really need to answer

Rev. Dr. Mae Cannon, executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace, speaks at the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference in Oklahoma in 2018. (Photo by Dexter Van Zile)

by Dexter Van Zile

(CAMERA) — Founded in 1984, Churches for Middle East Peace is a lobby organization supported by approximately 30 churches and church-related organizations in the United States.

The organization, which works to influence Congress, the White House and the State Department regarding American foreign policy in the Middle East, sends alerts to its supporters who in turn are asked to contact government officials about their concerns.

The churches that support CMEP, particularly mainline Protestant churches, sometimes broadcast these alerts to their members. In its messaging about the Arab-Israeli conflict, CMEP mainly targets Israel and the U.S. with criticism and demands while remaining largely silent about the misdeeds of the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank; and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.

With its one-sided testimony about the conflict, CMEP has served as a de facto replacement for the PLO’s diplomatic mission in Washington that was shut down by the Trump Administration in 2018. 

CMEP and the Palestinian Authority are on the same page when it comes to condemning the Trump Administration’s Peace to Prosperity Peace plan put forth in late January. When CMEP’s executive director Rev. Mae Cannon issued a statement condemning the plan, the Palestinian Authority posted it on its website.

During a recent conference call organized by the Global Immersion Project, another so-called “peace” organization, Cannon said that her organization would call on its supporters to declare that they are opposed to the Trump peace plan. On its website, CMEP declared that the “inevitable result” of the plan “will be more human rights abuses, trauma, and violence.” With statements like this, CMEP is giving the Palestinian Authority the cover it needs to refuse to negotiate a final settlement, something it has failed to do in good faith for years.

It’s a strange thing to see from an organization led by a “peace” activist who declared in 2018, “Throwing mud at peace negotiations does not bring peace closer. It just adds yet more burdens to negotiate for peace, and more pretext for those opposed to peace.”

Who is throwing mud now?

Here are a few questions that lawmakers should ask CMEP executive director Mae Cannon and the activists she leads on their next visit to Capitol Hill.

CMEP Expectations of Palestinian Elites

What do the Palestinians need to do for there to be peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians? What expectations does CMEP have of Palestinians leaders?

Background: In a statement about the Trump Plan, CMEP laments that the plan “asks Palestinians to ‘meet the challenges of peaceful coexistence,’ including inter alia [among other things] establishing Palestinian national laws on human rights, recognizing Israel as the Jewish State, dismantling Hamas, demilitarizing Gaza, and halting financial compensation to terrorists.”

These expectations, CMEP declares, are “all deeply subjective, and all subject to Israel and the U.S. deciding whether what Palestinians did was sufficient to meet the ‘challenges’.”

These expectations were, in one form or another, included in the Oslo Accords signed in the early 1990s, and no one seemed to have any problem with the Palestinians agreeing to them back then. Why is there a problem now? If they are subjective demands now, why weren’t they in the 1990s?

Accountability for Palestinians

Why is it unreasonable to hold the Palestinians accountable for the promises they agree to?

Background: In its recent statement condemning the Trump Peace Plan, CMEP laments that the plan’s promise of $50 billion in investment in a future Palestinian state is “qualified” because “the money is entirely contingent on the Palestinians meeting Israeli-U.S. requirements in advance” and that it is “also contingent on Palestinians meeting the other donors’ requirements and supervision.”

Does CMEP honestly think that the Palestinians are entitled to money from Western countries without strings attached? Do CMEP activists honestly think that Western donors should donate money to the PA in light of the Palestinian Authority’s use of donor funds to pay the families of terrorists who have killed Israeli civilians? Why is it so unreasonable to make future pay-outs to Palestinians contingent on their meeting the expectations their leaders agreed to during the Oslo Accords? Does CMEP think statehood should be accorded to the Palestinians without reasonable assurances that they will live in peace with the Jewish state right next door?

Palestinian Rejectionism of Jewish Human Rights and Self-Determination

Can CMEP and other Christian “peace” and “justice” organizations support Palestinian statehood and human rights at the same time?

Background: Palestinian nationalism has, for most of its history, been based on an outright rejection of Jewish self-determination. There have been some gestures, fleeting and later contradicted, of acknowledging the reality (not the legitimacy) of Israel’s existence. Instead of working to convince people of the need to accept Israel’s existence, Palestinian elites continue to use some very ugly antisemitic tropes to unite rank-and-file Palestinians and distract them from the catastrophic failure of both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas to provide for the material welfare of the people they govern. 

These tropes portray Jews as unfit to exercise the right of self-determination. They portray Jews, by their continued existence and sovereignty, as a threat to the welfare of Arabs and Muslims worldwide.

In sum, the Palestinians have demanded the right of self-determination for themselves while refusing it to Jews living in Israel.

And despite all this, CMEP and its executive director Mae Cannon have declared it unreasonable to expect the Palestinians to affirm the legitimacy of Jewish self-determination. Given that Palestinian nationalism is predicated on denying Jews their rights to self-determination, how can CMEP and other Christian “peace” and “justice” organizations logically claim to support human rights and Palestinian statehood at the same time?

Human Rights and Palestinian Nationalism

What is the central idea that motivates CMEP activism: human rights or Palestinian nationalism?

If it is human rights, why have we seen so little effort on the part of CMEP to convince Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to change their ways by affirming the Jewish right to self-determination and refraining from abusing the people they claim to be liberating? 

And if CMEP’s central, motivating agenda is to promote Palestinian nationalism above all else, then how can we be sure that its activists aren’t deploying the language of human rights in an instrumental (instead of a principled) manner? In other words, how can we be sure that CMEP and its allies aren’t deploying the language of human rights to delegitimize Israel, the country with the best human rights record in the Middle East?

Human Rights and the Cairo Declaration

Is it reasonable, responsible, and ethical for CMEP to promote the creation of another Islamic state that rejects call for equality enunciated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights passed by the United Nations in 1948? More to the point, what is CMEP’s response to the Cairo Declaration? 

The latter denies the applicability of the UDHR by stating that the CD’s signatories affirm human rights to the extent that they do not contradict Muslim doctrine, which historically has denied equal rights before the law for Muslims and non-Muslims, affirmed male superiority, and legitimized slavery, which astonishingly enough is still practiced today in some Muslim countries. (This has particular resonance for the Holy Land because the draft Palestinian constitution declares that “The principles of Islamic Shari’a shall be the main source of legislation” for the future state.)

Is it appropriate for a “peace” and “justice” organization to cooperate — even tangentially — with the diplomatic agenda of countries that have signed the Cairo Declaration? Should signatories of the Cairo Declaration be allowed to serve on the U.N. Human Rights Council or file human rights complaints, given their stated opposition to these rights? 

Should the non-Islamic signatories of the UDHR take these complaints seriously? 

Should groups like CMEP which operate in countries that have signed the UDHR work with human rights organizations operating in countries that reject this treaty on either a de jure or de facto basis?

More to the point, is it appropriate for CMEP to “partner” with organizations such as the Defense of Children International, whose leaders have ties to the PFLP, a terror organization that denies the Jewish right to self-determination and seeks Israel’s destruction? How can CMEP justify aligning its agenda in the U.S. with an organization whose leaders have such a hateful agenda in the Holy Land?


The main challenge to Churches for Middle East Peace and other Christian peacemakers is this: Can Christian peacemakers work in good conscience to achieve the rights of self-determination of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza when their leaders have refused to acknowledge the same right of Jews living in Israel?