Bishop of Belleville
President, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
April 26, 2004
President Bush's recent announcement of support for the unilateral Israeli policy toward Gaza and the West Bank is deeply troubling. The President's acquiescence in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's unilateral approach risks undermining the Roadmap for Peace and prospects for a negotiated settlement of this conflict.
Under other circumstances, the closing of the Gaza settlements and the withdrawal of Israeli troops would be regarded as serious steps toward peace. It is difficult to see, however, how endorsement of this withdrawal in the context of tacit support for key elements of one party's position on such core issues as West Bank settlements and the right of return will not block the path to peace for years to come.
In accepting Israeli-created "facts-on-the-ground," which were established in defiance of long standing US policy regarding Israeli settlements and the right of return, the United States has set a worrying precedent that will make it extremely difficult to create a viable, independent Palestinian state, especially if the West Bank settlements are enlarged and the security wall proceeds as planned. 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.
Moreover, U.S. leadership is put at risk if it accepts the view of Prime Minister Sharon that unilateral actions will delay negotiating an Israeli-Palestinian peace for a generation. A just peace cannot be imposed by one side; it can only come from mutual dialogue and negotiation by Israelis and Palestinians.
We urge the Bush administration to return to the traditional U.S. role of "honest broker" by working with the international community and Palestinians and Israelis to develop trust-building measures and to pursue peaceful means to negotiate their differences, in accord with international law and existing UN Resolutions. In that way, they can build together a culture of peace that respects the rights of all. The United States must press both sides for an end to the current violence and repression, suicide bombings, extra-judicial killings and other aggressive responses that only fuel more violence and delay the day of peace.
We pray that God will hasten the time when both peoples, in the words of the Psalmist, may call Zion mother, "for all shall be her children."