WASHINGTON (May 26, 2006) — Bishop Thomas G. Wenski, Chairman of the Committee on International Policy, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), called for modifications in the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006 to support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to alleviate the urgent needs of the Palestinian people.
"These goals are in the best interests of both Palestinians and Israelis who long for a just peace," Bishop Wenski said in a letter (May 19) to Senator Richard G. Lugar, Chairman, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Bishop Wenski said the USCCB perspective on the legislation is shaped by two overriding concerns.
"First, S. 2370 should be measured in light of the ultimate goal of promoting a two-state solution that provides security for Israel and a viable state for the Palestinians, two states living alongside one another in peace," the Bishop said. "Second, the legislation should provide for the urgent needs of the Palestinian people. A further deterioration of the humanitarian and economic situation of the Palestinian people compromises human dignity and puts at risk the long-term welfare of both Palestinians and Israelis who long for a just peace."
Noting that S. 2370 acknowledges the goal of a two-state solution and has improvements over its companion bill in the House (HR 4681), Bishop Wenski said the bishops' Conference remains concerned that some of the provisions of the legislation would undermine a two-state solution.
The bishops' relief and development agency, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and other Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) say their assistance programs in the Palestinian Territories could be severely curtailed and a number of programs ended under the proposed legislation, Bishop Wenski said. "It is not in the best interests of either Israelis or Palestinians for desperation to grow in the West Bank and Gaza. Instead S. 2370 should send a message that Congress supports a wide range of basic assistance programs to the Palestinian people," he said.
Bishop Wenski acknowledged that, compared to the House, the Senate has a less restrictive definition of assistance that can be provided by NGOs to the Palestinian people. "However, we remain concerned that S. 2370 needs specifically to define a broader range of essential assistance including…food, water, medical services, sanitation services, education, job training, psycho-social counseling, agricultural development, and other assistance to meet basic human needs," he said. "Especially given the deepening poverty and unemployment in the Palestinian territories, the exception ought to explicitly mention or describe a broader range of services to meet 'basic human needs.'"
Bishop Wenski said the legislation rightly calls upon Hamas to renounce terrorism, recognize Israel and accept prior agreements. He also questioned sections of the legislation which discourage contact with all officials of the Palestinian Authority (except for President Abbas and his personal representatives), including the Palestinian Legislative Council, despite the fact that many members of the Council are not members of Hamas or another Foreign Terrorist Organization. "These actions discourage contact with the Palestinian leaders whose support is crucial for pursuing a two-state solution," the Bishop said.
Bishop Wenski said the certification described in the bill, which is the basis for all of the bill's restrictions, should focus on essential reform requirements for the Palestinian Authority. "Good governance is always a worthy goal, but a laundry list of conditions beyond these essential ones may simply delay and impede a negotiated two-state solution," he said.