WASHINGTON (April 12, 2002) -- Constructive and persistent U.S. involvement is necessary for achieving resolution in the violent Israeli-Palestinian crisis, the President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told President Bush in a letter delivered to the White House yesterday.
Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville (IL) welcomed the President's recent statements urging Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and an end to Palestinian terrorist attacks. He also welcomed the President's decision to send Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region and used the opportunity to reiterate the bishops' ongoing concerns about the "spiral of violence in the Holy Land."
Specifically, Bishop Gregory:
- condemned both Palestinian terrorist attacks on innocent civilians – calling them "morally abhorrent" – and Israeli occupation and efforts to dismantle the Palestinian Authority. He said Israel's "indiscriminate and excessive use of force in civilian areas, and the failure of the Israeli military to permit humanitarian access for the civilian population" go beyond efforts to combat terrorism and, "in fact, risks fueling it."
- urged a quick resolution to the standoff at the Church of the Nativity which respects the "Status Quo" of the Holy Places. "I urge you to do all that you can ... to insist that both sides withdraw from this confrontation and accept proposals of the religious leaders in the Holy Land to end it peacefully."
- urged the United States to encourage the parties strongly to embrace an immediate cease-fire and the injection international monitors or peacekeepers to enforce it.
- articulated the long-standing elements of a just peace in the region which remain the same as before the most recent violence: a viable state for Palestinians, real security for the State of Israel, just resolution of the refugee problem, an agreement on Jerusalem which protects religious freedom and other basic rights, and implementation of relevant United Nations resolutions and other provisions of international law. "The United States, in collaboration with the international community, can play a constructive role by continuing to be clear that it recognizes that each side in this conflict has deep, long-standing and legitimate grievances that must be addressed if there is to be a just and lasting peace," Bishop Gregory said.
- "Both Palestinian and Israeli leaders must refrain from inciting hatred against the other," Bishop Gregory told President Bush. "One of the tragedies of the current crisis is that it has so damaged prospects for development of the new attitudes of understanding and mutual respect without which neither side will be able to achieve their legitimate goals."
"With constructive and persistent U.S. involvement, it is not too late to help pave the way to a future of cooperation and accommodation rather than occupation and destructive conflict in the Holy Land."