Chairman, Committee on International Policy
United States Catholic Conference
June 21, 2000
The recent withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon, which has now been certified by the UN Security Council, is an encouraging development. It stirs hope that life can return to normal in that battered land. It marks the return of territorial integrity to the country of Lebanon, and moves her another step closer to regaining full sovereignty over that territory. It also opens new opportunities for progress towards a just peace in the Middle East.
Lebanon must be allowed to enjoy full sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity, in keeping with United Nations' resolutions and in accord with Lebanon's own unique political circumstances. With the return of government authority to south Lebanon, it is vitally important that the government, in collaboration with United Nations peacekeepers, ensure peace and order in the region. The withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon as well as the dissolution of remaining private militias in the country is also required. Lebanon should never again serve as a surrogate battleground for other countries' wars.
As public services are restored in south Lebanon, all the peoples of the area should be allowed to return to their home towns and villages. This return should include, in due course, emigrιs presently residing in Israel. Reports of efforts by Muslims to reassure the Christian population that Christians are free to remain or to return to the liberated part of the country and share in its reconstruction are especially welcome. Lebanon can and should be a model of religious pluralism for the whole Middle East. The efforts of Lebanon's religious leaders, Christian and Muslim, to preserve and promote this unique gift at this time of transition deserve support.
After civil war, invasion, and occupation, Lebanon faces a monumental task of rebuilding its ravaged infrastructure and returning displaced Lebanese to their own homes. For some time, this work has been delayed because of border incidents, reprisal attacks, and military incursions. The U.S. government and Congress should take account of the changed circumstances and respond generously to Lebanon's reconstruction and development.
The plight of Palestinian refugees now in Lebanon demands special attention. The refugees demand "the right of return," and Lebanese are united in their conviction that the refugees cannot remain indefinitely. Any meaningful peace must bring an end to a situation in which so many refugees are endangered by an uncertain and an impoverished future. The international community must acknowledge its role in creating and perpetuating this situation, and assume responsibility to contribute to a solution to the problem.
Finally, events of the last weeks should invite all parties to the Mideast conflict to redouble their efforts to work for peace and justice in the whole region. I pray that peace will take firm root in the hearts of Lebanese, Israelis, Syrians, and Palestinians, so that they may soon enjoy the rich harvest of peace together.