The New Intifada and the Peace Process
In the past six months, the Holy Land has suffered the extremes of the worst violence in more than a decade and the most progress ever towards a political settlement. The new intifada and the Israeli response has resulted in almost 400 killed, the vast majority Palestinians, thousands injured, a resurgence of terrorist attacks, and the closure of Palestinian areas. After both sides agreed they were closer than ever to a political settlement in late January, the election of Ariel Sharon has radically transformed the political landscape and, at best, has put the peace process on hold.
The bishops have issued numerous statements and letters in recent years, and particularly in the past six months, on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The most important statement was issued by the full body of bishops at their General Meeting in November 2001.
- Human rights and violence
- The escalating cycle of provocations, threats, violence, excessive force, and reprisals only compound injustice and inflame hatred and fear.
- efforts of extremists, in the region and abroad, who incite and intensify religious conflict through inflammatory rhetoric, and anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and anti-Christian acts are especially deplorable
The peace process
- revival of the peace process, despite the many obstacles, is the only realistic way forward. Given the widespread disillusionment on both sides with the peace process, it must be based on, in the words of Pope John Paul II, "a return to the negotiating table on an equal footing, with due respect for international law ....[A]ll individuals [must] see their fundamental rights guaranteed: both the Israeli people and the Palestinian people are equally entitled to live in their own homeland in dignity and security" (November 6, 2000)
- A just peace demands speedy implementation of relevant UN resolutions and other provisions of international law, and the establishment of an internationally-recognized Palestinian state. A just peace equally demands respect for Israel's right to exist and flourish within secure borders.
The future of Jerusalem
- Jerusalem is perhaps the most intractable of the issues in the peace process. During his visit to the Holy Land, Pope John Paul II witnessed to the universal religious significance of Jerusalem, calling for Jerusalem to be "a City of Peace for all peoples" (March 23, 2000). The Holy See believes the difficult issues of territory and sovereignty should be resolved by negotiations. It also has repeatedly urged "an internationally guaranteed statute for the most religious parts of this unique city" (Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, March 9, 1999). Such a statute would provide guarantees for equality of rights for all residents, freedom of religion for all, and free access to and protection of the Holy Places.
- While attention is rightly focused on the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, a comprehensive Middle East peace must address the situation in Lebanon as well.
- The withdrawal of Isreali troops from Lebanon last summer was a most welcome development. It is gravely troubling, however, that, a decade after the end of the civil war, Lebanon is not yet a fully sovereign state due to the Syrian presence.
- The U.S. should work energetically for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Lebanon, and for respect for its sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence.
The Christian community 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 Christian communities of the Holy Land give witness to the Gospel in the Land of Jesus. Three hundred thousand Christians live in the Holy Land (Israel, Palestine and Jordan). The continuing fighting and growing despair about the future risks further marginalizing the Christian community and accelerating the departure of Christians from the Holy Land.
The Nazareth Mosque
- The Bishops remain extremely concerned about the mosque being constructed adjacent to the Basilica of the Annunciation, the principal Christian shrine in Nazareth. In what it considered a compromise, the Barak government reversed a court decision against the mosque, permitting construction of a smaller mosque than that originally proposed. The Christian churches in the region and the Holy See have strongly objected to the "compromise." They were not consulted in advance, and they are deeply concerned that the government acquiesced to the demands of a small group of Islamic militants who are using the mosque as part of a wider effort to incite ant-Christian sentiment.
- Interfaith efforts. Consider reaching out to Muslim and Jewish communities to discuss areas of common ground as well as areas of disagreement
- U.S. Policy. The U.S. should continue to work tirelessly to revive the peace process in a way that is truly balanced, does not acquiesce to unilateral actions which undermine negotiations, and that responds with respect to the legitimate claims and expectations of both parties.
- Holy Land pilgrimages. Groups going to the Holy Land should use it as an occasion to come to know Holy Land Christians and to establish ties of solidarity with them. The USCC's new Guidelines for Holy Land Pilgrimages provide detailed suggestions on how to conduct solidarity pilgrimages, as well as useful information about local contacts.
"The Path to Peace in the Middle East", U.S. Catholic Bishops' Statement (11/00); letters on the Middle East: (10/00 and 12/00), Bernard Cardinal Law; Holy Land Pilgrimage Guidelines, USCC Committee on International Policy (3/99); "The Holy See and the Middle East," Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran (3/99); "The Future of Jerusalem," Archbishop Theodore McCarrick (11/17/98).
For further information: Fr. Drew Christiansen, S.J. or Gerard Powers, 202-541-3160 (ph); 202-541-3339 (fax); firstname.lastname@example.org