Church Leaders See "Much More"in
President Bush's Middle East Statement

(WASHINGTON, June 25, 2002) - American church leaders representing the nation's mainline Protestant churches, as well as Catholic offices, welcomed a renewed U.S. commitment to pursue an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.  Commenting that the news media had focused only on one aspect of the President's address, Rev. Daryl Byler, director of the Mennonite Central Committee's Washington office, asked, "Did people listen past the first minute?  There was much more substance to the President's speech than simply 'the Palestinians need a new leader.'"

Speaking through a national coalition named Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), Byler continued, "While 'pundits' pretend that the President only called for new Palestinian leadership, in reality he made significant demands of Israel, too.  To use his own words, the President 'challenge[d] Israel to take concrete steps to support the emergence of a viable, credible Palestinian state.'  Those steps," Byler reiterated, "would lead to an end of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory.  I am pleased that the President recognizes that both parties must work hard to re-establish the peace process."

He and other church leaders pointed hopefully to the President's comments that Israeli forces need "to withdraw fully to positions they held prior to September 28, 2000."  They praised President Bush for committing himself to seeing an end to the Israeli occupation and a negotiated settlement that would be based on U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338.

The coalition's director, Corinne Whitlatch, observed, "President Bush showed the American people an understanding of 'the deep anger and despair' felt not only by the Israeli people but also by the Palestinian people.  In that context and with the long history of this conflict, it makes sense that both Palestinians and Israelis could use more forward-looking leadership - persons who would show increased willingness to implement this far-ranging vision for peace.  I question whether either Mr. Sharon or Mr. Arafat are prepared to conclude the agreement called for by President Bush."

Father Stan DeBoe, Justice and Peace Director for the Catholic Conference of Major Superiors of Men's Institutes, expressed the hope that the President will enable Secretary of State Colin Powell to follow through with the peace process:  "President Bush showed that he understands the need for international involvement to move the process forward and demonstrated his trust in Secretary Powell to help do that on behalf of the United States."

DeBoe continued, "Palestinian reform cannot take place within the existing situation of curfews, closures, demolitions, assassinations, and military actions.  Israel must guarantee freedom of movement within the West Bank and Gaza so that positive reform can happen and popular support for terrorist acts can end."  Byler concluded for the group of church leaders, "The President was most eloquent in reminding us that 'the time has arrived for everyone in this conflict to choose peace, hope, and life.'"