“The majority of Arab Israelis feel disappointed” at the results of the recent Israeli elections and feel “unable to change the status quo,” Bishop William Shomali, the Palestinian auxiliary-bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, told me in this exclusive interview. But he still believes that peace is possible, and thinks the United States "could do a lot" to help change the political situation by, for example, refraining from using the veto at the UN Security Council when it comes to the approval of a resolution on Palestinian statehood.
How do you interpret the Israeli election results?
The election results mean that Israelis are going more to the right and are more supportive of the policy of Benjamin Netanyahu towards Palestinians. It means also that Netanyahu’s campaign was very clever since he reversed the polls and won unexpectedly. The majority of Arab Israelis feel disappointed and unable to change the status quo. They tried their best to have more seats in the Knesset in order to back the left and the peace process but failed.
What does this election result mean for the peace process?
Unless a miracle happens, the situation will remain static without change. The Palestinians will now feel more motivated to go to the international instances and especially to the International Criminal Court to defend their cause.
Netanyahu has promised to continue building settlements, also in Jerusalem, how do the Christian Churches view this? What can they do in this situation?
Like the other citizens, Christians in Jerusalem feel that the settlements grow quickly around them and take away the space that belongs to them while they suffer from a difficult housing shortage. In fact the permits of construction given to Palestinians are disproportionate to their numbers.
Is the two-state solution dead?
Not totally. Netanyahu has already changed his positions two days after the election, stating that if the conditions change it would be possible to think of the two-state solution. I am sure this is an obligatory option for him since he will never accept a binational state which on the long run would deny the Jewish character of Israel.
Do you see any signs of hope in the election results?
We have to wait and see. Many things were said as part of an electoral campaign. Despite appearances, the Likud party has done a lot for peace. A Likud Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, achieved the peace treaty with Egypt in Camp David in 1978. In politics changes and surprises are possible. Someone may object that the miracle at that time was possible thanks to President Jimmy Carter’s integrity and Sadat’s courage. It is true. But it also required a strong party in Israel to go against current and sign the peace accord. I still believe that history could repeat itself, also today.
What can religious leaders do in the present situation, or is anybody listening to them?
Religious leaders do not seem to be consulted. But they must continue to play a role. First of all, they should pray. Peace is a divine gift. They should also repeat that peace is still possible. If hope dies, the peace process dies. They should practice advocacy and exercise pressure on the decision makers. They will make a difference if they support the international UN resolutions concerning the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
What would you like to see the USA do now?
The USA can do a lot on many levels. Not the least of them is to refrain from using their veto in the United Nations Security Council when it comes to the acceptance of Palestine as a full state.
Do you think the pope can make any contribution at this stage?
The pope works discreetly without the trumpet. He recently succeeded in bringing a rapprochement between Cuba and the USA. It was the result of a discreet diplomatic move. He is able to surprise us like he did when he invited Presidents Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres to the Vatican in June 2014 to join him in prayer for peace. I do not believe that this prayer failed its target. The fruits can come later. Let us think of the olive tree that was planted in the Vatican gardens. It did not die. Therefore, I believe there is still hope.