The failure to solve the Palestinian-Israeli issue remains a permanent factor of destabilization for the whole region, not to speak of the indescribable suffering it has caused both the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples.
--Pope John Paul II, January 12, 2004
What is the position of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on peace in the Holy Land?
“The steps toward a just and lasting peace remain the same: real security for the State of Israel, a viable state for Palestinians, just resolution of the refugee problem, an agreement on Jerusalem which protects religious freedom and other basic rights, an equitable sharing of resources, especially water, and implementation of relevant UN resolutions and other provisions of international law. These steps will pave the way to a future of cooperation and accommodation rather than occupation and conflict.
As supporters of the State of Israel and a state for Palestinians, we recognize 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.”
--Statement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops, June 15, 2001
What is USCCB doing to promote peace in the Holy Land?
The U.S. Catholic Bishops have a long history of working for peace in the Holy Land. The Bishops have met with public officials of the United States, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. On many occasions, they have consulted with the Holy See and the Church in the Holy Land. More recently, the Bishops launched the Catholic Campaign for Peace in the Holy Land. The Campaign calls on diocesan bishops and Catholic leaders to partner actively with local religious leaders in Jewish, Muslim and other Christian traditions. The goal is to create a shared commitment to the broad outlines of a just resolution of the conflict and to raise a united voice with policy makers and the wider public. The Catholic Campaign for Peace in the Holy Land is part of the wider National Interreligious Initiative for Peace in the Middle East.
What are the goals of the National Interreligious Initiative for Peace in the Middle East?
In December 2003, USCCB participated in an unprecedented initiative of over 30 U.S. Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious leaders who offered “Twelve Urgent Steps for Peace in the Middle East” and urged the U.S. government to work to revive the peace process. In January 2005, this interreligious initiative, in concert with local interreligious groups in a dozen cities from coast to coast, called on President Bush to exercise “active, fair and firm U.S. leadership in pursuit of peace.” They suggested that the President support a negotiated “timetable for specific, simultaneous steps to be taken by the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government, with effective…monitoring to assure implementation….” They also recommended that he “take the lead… to mobilize increased international economic aid…to build up the Palestinian Authority's capacity to provide security, prevent violent attacks on Israelis, and deliver humanitarian aid, vital services, and development assistance to the Palestinian people.”
What specific issues related to the conflict are of special concern to the USCCB?
Violence is a key concern. The USCCB Administrative Committee has stated: “The horrible cycle of violence, occupation, and terror in the Middle East must be brought to an end.” (March 13, 2002) The USCCB welcomes the recent commitment of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to stop the violence. Palestinians must take effective steps to stop terrorism. Israel must resist aggressive military responses.
There are other specific issues as well. As USCCB President Bishop Wilton Gregory said: “The combined pressures of expanding settlements, prolonged occupation, the security wall, and general insecurity could lead in time to de facto "transfer" of much of the Palestinian population. For those who remain, it will yield a life of desperation; and for many it will feed the fires of resistance.” The expansion of settlements has created a roadblock on the road to peace. The route of the “security wall” presents a further impediment to creation of a viable Palestinian state in a two-state resolution of the conflict.
Why is the USCCB pursuing a renewed push for peace in the Middle East at this time?
The recent actions taken by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President Mahmoud Abbas to end the violence create conditions for renewed negotiations. President Bush sent Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the region to give high visibility, support and encouragement to these latest efforts. Secretary Rice’s announcement of the appointment of a special security coordinator may help both sides in their efforts to curb the violence. The President has also scheduled meetings with both President Abbas and Prime Minister Sharon. Concerted U.S. leadership could make the difference between the success and failure of any peace process.
In his State of the Union message, President Bush proposed providing $350 million to “support Palestinian political, economic and security reforms.” This funding could strengthen the capacity of Palestinians to move the peace process forward.
Are there issues of particular concern to the Church in the Holy Land?
The Christian community feels increasingly isolated and too many Christians are still emigrating. The precarious situation of the Church in the Holy Land is exacerbated by the failure to make real progress in the Vatican-Israeli dialogue related to the Fundamental Agreement between Israel and the Holy See. Many Church agencies and institutions are put at risk by ruinous tax policies and other problems. Successful completion of negotiations between the Holy See and Israel on the Fundamental Agreement of 1993 is critical not only for the future of the Church in the Holy Land, but for religious liberty in the region more widely.
What is the USCCB position on the thorny question of the status of Jerusalem?
“The question of Jerusalem involves two aspects. Territorial sovereignty is a bilateral question for Israelis and the Palestinian Authority to resolve equitably and by negotiations according to UN Resolutions. The religious dimension of Jerusalem, especially the "Old City," involves the need to preserve its unique and sacred character, both the Holy Places and the living communities of believers there. In order to safeguard the religious and human dimensions of Jerusalem, the Holy See has long advocated a special statute, internationally guaranteed. This statute would secure: (1) freedom of religion and conscience for all; (2) the juridical equality of the three monotheistic religions; (3) respect for the identity and sacred character of the City; (4) protection of and freedom of access for all to the Holy Places; (5) the regime of "status quo" in Holy Places where it applies. This statute, to be negotiated by the two parties in consultation with the three religious communities, could be guaranteed by the UN, the sponsors of the peace process, or another entity, but, in any case, should be sanctioned by the United Nations.” (U.S. Catholic Bishops, June 15, 2001)
What is USCCB asking of U.S. policy makers?
The USCCB is urging President Bush to make pursuit of a just peace a top priority of his second term. The Bishops are asking members of Congress to support the President’s request for $350 million for the Palestinians and are urging that this support be delivered in ways that build Palestinian capacity to address humanitarian, economic, political and security needs. Finally, the Bishops are asking the Administration, members of Congress and Jewish leaders to press Israel to successfully conclude negotiations with the Holy See related to the Fundamental Agreement.
For additional materials, see www.usccb.org/sdwp/international/mideast.shtml.
For further information: Stephen Colecchi, Director, Office of International Justice and Peace, 202-541-3160 (phone), 541-3339 (fax), email@example.com (email).