The failure to solve the Palestinian-Israeli issue remains a permanent factor of destabilization for the whole region, not to speak of the indescribable suffering it has caused both the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples. --Pope John Paul II, January 12, 2004
The Middle East is a land holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims, but tragically it is also a land that yearns for a just peace. USCCB has a long history of working to address the conflict that has taken too many lives and crippled too many others. Violence, occupation and hatred have resulted in thousands killed and injured, most of them civilians, and in a denial of security and dignity to many more.
Palestinian leaders must clearly renounce terrorism, take effective steps to stop it, and bring to justice those responsible. It is reprehensible to call suicide bombers “martyrs.” Israel’s often aggressive military response, its expansion of settlements, and its construction of a wall deep in Palestinian areas increase the misery and tension that often lead to violence. The route of the “fence” presents a further impediment to creation of a viable Palestinian state that is necessary for a two-state resolution of the conflict.
More recently there are signs of more positive developments. The election of a new Palestinian President, Israeli withdrawal from some Palestinian lands, and recent statements of President Bush create possibilities for a renewed peace process. Most Israelis and Palestinians accept that real security for Israelis and the end of occupation for Palestinians cannot be achieved by violence.
The Palestinian Authority appears to be working to curtail terrorist violence and Israel appears to have suspended its campaign to assassinate Palestinians suspected of terrorism. Concerted U.S. leadership could make the difference in seizing the opportunity of this significant moment. President Bush has proposed U.S. funding to “support Palestinian political, economic and security reforms.” This funding would strengthen Palestinian capacity for the peace process and eventual statehood, but Congress has attached some onerous provisions to this aid that could delay its delivery and make it less effective.
The dwindling Christian community feels increasingly isolated and some Christians are still emigrating. The precarious situation of the Church in the Holy Land is exacerbated by the failure to make real progress in the Vatican-Israeli negotiations on the Fundamental Agreement between Israel and the Holy See. Many Church agencies and institutions are put at risk by ruinous tax policies and other problems.
National Interreligious Initiative for Peace
In December 2003, USCCB participated in an unprecedented initiative of over 30 U.S. Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious leaders who offered “Twelve Urgent Steps for Peace in the Middle East” and urged the U.S. government to work to revive the peace process. In January 2005, this interreligious initiative, in concert with local interreligious groups in about a dozen cities from coast to coast, called on President Bush to appoint a special full-time Presidential Envoy to pursue a just peace in the Middle East. They suggested that the President support a negotiated “timetable for specific, simultaneous steps to be taken by the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government, with effective…monitoring to assure implementation….” They also recommended that he “take the lead… to mobilize increased international economic aid…to build up the Palestinian Authority's capacity to provide security, prevent violent attacks on Israelis, and deliver humanitarian aid, vital services, and development assistance to the Palestinian people.”
The Catholic Campaign for Peace in the Holy Land
The Catholic Campaign for Peace in the Holy Land was launched in February 2005 as part of the National Interreligious Initiative. The Campaign invites bishops and Catholic leaders to partner with local religious leaders in Jewish, Muslim and other Christian traditions. The goal is to create a shared commitment to the broad outlines of a just resolution of the conflict and to raise a united voice with policy makers and the wider public.
USCCB holds that a just peace demands an end to the violence, real security for the State of Israel, an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the establishment of an internationally-recognized and viable state for Palestinians, just resolution of the refugee problem, an agreement on Jerusalem that protects religious freedom and other basic rights, an equitable sharing of resources, especially water, and implementation of relevant UN resolutions and other provisions of international law.
USCCB advocacy has a long history. The past year has seen specific interventions and meetings with U.S. officials. At the time of President Arafat’s death in November 2004, Bishop Gregory wrote President Bush calling for renewed U.S. leadership for a just peace and Bishop Ricard, Chairman of the Committee on International Policy, issued a public statement. In January 2005 meetings between members of the Episcopal Co-Ordination for the Holy Land and the Presidents of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Bishop William Skylstad, the USCCB President, delivered a statement on behalf of the bishops calling for a just peace and supporting the Church in the Holy Land. In February 2005 Bishop Ricard issued a statement noting encouraging developments and urging progress toward a just peace. In May Cardinal McCarrick met with President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority.
The Christian Communities in the Holy Land
In the pursuit of a just peace for all in the region, the Christian presence in the Holy Land must not be forgotten. The continuing violence and growing despair could further marginalize the Christian community and accelerate the departure of Christians. Successful completion of negotiations between the Holy See and Israel on the Fundamental Agreement of 1993 is critical, not only for the future of the Church in the Holy Land, but for religious liberty in the region more widely. In the past year, the USCCB has worked to promote a resolution of the issue, including meetings with U.S. Administration and Israeli Embassy officials, and letters from Bishop Skylstad to the Israeli Ambassador and Secretary of State Rice on January 18, 2005. For the past four years, leaders of episcopal conferences from Europe and the Americas have met in the Holy Land with Catholic Bishops there to enhance our solidarity with the Church in the Holy Land.
- Join the Catholic Campaign for Peace in the Holy Land. Reach out to Jewish and Muslim religious leaders to work together to promote strong U.S. leadership on this issue. Visit this website for more information: www.usccb.org/sdwp/international/holylandpeace.shtml.
- Address U.S. Policy. Urge President Bush to make pursuit of a just peace a top priority. Encourage Congress to support the President’s requests for funding to build the capacity of the Palestinians for the peace process and eventual statehood.
- Support the Church in the Holy Land. Urge members of Congress and Jewish leaders to press Israel to successfully conclude negotiations with the Holy See related to the Fundamental Agreement.
For additional materials, see www.usccb.org/sdwp/international/mideast.
For further information: Stephen Colecchi, Director, Office of International Justice and Peace, 202-541-3160 (phone), 541-3339 (fax), email@example.com (email).