Bishops Urge Israelis and Palestinians to Return to Negotiations, Express Solidarity with Christians in Holy Land

WASHINGTON (June 15, 2001) -- Israelis and Palestinians alike must abandon violence, respect human rights, and return to the path of peace, according to a strongly worded resolution approved today by the nation's Catholic Bishops at their meeting here.

"A way must be found to return quickly to genuine negotiations, embracing, as far as possible, the gains in the last rounds of the final status talks," they said. Despite the failure last year to reach a final accord, "and recent, terrible events, it is not too late to embrace nonviolence, dialogue, and negotiation as the only road forward."

Today's vote follows a plea yesterday from the Latin-rite Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, for continued advocacy by the Catholic Church for a resolution to the Middle East crisis. Following Patriarch Sabbah's remarks, in a departure from normal practice, the Bishops received a briefing on the current situation in the region. The panel which addressed the Bishops consisted of: Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore, Ambassador Dennis Ross who served as a special envoy in the region during the Clinton Administration, and Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, an advisor to the U.S. Catholic Conference on Middle East affairs.

The resolution approved today states that Palestinians "rightly insist" on an end to Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the practice of establishing and expanding settlements in the territories. Likewise, they state that Israelis "rightly see" the failure of Palestinians to respect Israel's right to exist and flourish within secure borders as a cause of the conflict.

The Bishops also urged bold leadership within each community.

"In the same spirit, we believe, this is a moment that requires that more Israeli leaders and supporters of the State of Israel not only defend Israel and her people, but also advocate for the legitimate aspiration of Palestinians to live in their own homeland with dignity," the resolution states. "This moment also requires that more Palestinian leaders and supporters of the Palestinian cause not simply advocate a state of their own, but also be unambiguously clear about Israel's right to peace and security, and the imperative to end all violence."

According to the Bishops, the elements necessary for a just and lasting peace in the region include "real security for the state of Israel, a viable Palestinian state, just resolution of the refugee situation, an agreement on Jerusalem which protects religious freedom and other basic rights, an equitable sharing of resources, and implementation of relevant United Nations resolutions and other provisions of international law."

The resolution also reaffirms the U.S. Bishops' concern for and solidarity with the dwindling Christian community in the Holy Land.

"The native-born Christian presence in Israel and the occupied territories, less than 2 percent of the total, risks shrinking into insignificance, in no small part due to the present troubles and their human and economic consequences," the Bishops resolved.

They urged Catholics in the United States to pay greater attention to the Middle East crisis and to be "unflagging in pressing our government to play an active and constructive role in the search for a just peace."

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June 15, 2001 Copyright © by United States Catholic