OPEN LETTERS:

U.S. Episcopal, Presbyterian and Catholic Leaders Respond to Bush-Sharon Agreement Concerning the Holy Land

EDITOR'S NOTES: The following letters were sent to President George W. Bush in response to President Bush's stated support of the Sharon initiative.

Letter from the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church

April 21, 2004 The Honorable George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

The Episcopal Church has a long record of support for a just peace that guarantees Israel's security and Palestinian aspirations for a viable sovereign state with Jerusalem as the shared capital of both Israel and Palestine. We have been strong advocates of your "Road Map" for peace and been disappointed that more efforts were not made to support that important initiative. We fervently agree with your commitment to Israel's security in a Jewish state, "including secure, defensible borders" and your description of a future Palestinian state that is "viable, contiguous, sovereign, and independent."

However, it is with grave concern that I have read your letter of April 14 to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. While there are important points on which the Episcopal Church would agree with this letter, we are deeply distressed by a number of other points, most significantly the unilateral nature of these actions.

I firmly believe that there will be no just or lasting peace for either Palestine or Israel without the engagement of both parties in that process. Your endorsement of Prime Minister Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan and support for his positions on the vital issues of borders, settlements and refugees outside of the context of negotiations is a serious departure from America's traditional view that a resolution of these issues must be negotiated. I fear that your commitment threatens the renewal of negotiations in which Israelis and Palestinians can accommodate each others' vital interests without coercion or imposition. Turning away from meaningful negotiations will undermine hope, discourage moderate Palestinian voices, and threaten further violence. A retreat from strong, even handed American diplomacy in this conflict also jeopardizes America's struggle against terrorism.

I believe the security barrier under construction, in part on occupied territory, will not provide the security Israel needs and is an impediment to a comprehensive negotiated settlement. It is impossible for those who have not seen the barrier to fully comprehend its disruptive effect on the institutions and daily lives of Palestinians of all ages. It is separating families from one another, students from their schools, workers from their jobs, farmers from their land. Its current route threatens to preempt negotiation on borders and settlements. I therefore appreciate your stating that this barrier "should be temporary rather than permanent."

I condemn the ongoing cycle of violence and terrorism. This weekend's assassination will, I fear, only lead to more attacks of the very nature it is said to be meant to deter. I know there can be no end to the cycle if the root causes are not dealt with fairly. I pray for the day when Palestinians and Israelis alike can go about their daily lives without fear of attack and can live freely and safely within secure, recognized borders. Achieving this goal demands full engagement of both Israelis and Palestinians. It also requires strong and just American support. I urge that you oppose further unilateral or imposed efforts, and that you dedicate our government to an early return to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations as the only way toward a lasting resolution of this tragic conflict.

Please be assured, Mr. President, of my prayers for you in these complex and difficult times.

Yours sincerely,
The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church, USA

Letter from the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of PCUSA

April 19, 2004

President George W. Bush
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20400

Dear President Bush:

I write to share with you the deep concern of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), growing out of our long partnership with and work for the well being of Christians and people of other faiths in the Middle East.

On April 14, you announced a departure from former U.S. international policy and a reversal of long-held and current international policies toward Israel and Palestine. This departure continues a dangerous trend toward unilateral interventionism that inflames anti-American sentiment and nurtures militant religious fanaticism around the world. Your remarks seem instead to constitute a disengagement from the peacemaking process and an endorsement of a course of action that can only lead to more desperate violence and the prolonging of conflict in the region.

In 2003, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) adopted a comprehensive policy statement addressing the Israel-Palestine conflict.

This policy:

With deep commitment to the constructive role that the United States can play in the Middle East, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) urges you to reconsider giving your support to ill-considered policies advocated by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. We urge you to reclaim your role as a leader capable of using the influence of the United States to pressure Palestinian and Israeli leaders to turn from violence and re-engage in the hard work of moving toward a just peace.

Sincerely,
Clifton Kirkpatrick
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Statement from the U.S. 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, US 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 US 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."

Bishop Wilton D. Gregory
Bishop of Belleville
President, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Formed in 1984, Churches for Middle East Peace is a Washington-based program of the Alliance of Baptists, American Friends Service Committee, Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Catholic Conference of Major Superiors of Men's Institutes, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Church of the Brethren, Church World Service, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Franciscan Mission Service, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Maryknoll Missioners, Mennonite Central Committee, National Council of Churches, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, Unitarian Universalist Association, United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church (GBCS & GBGM)..For further information, or to subscribe directly to CMEP's email bulletins, visit: cmep.org.

These letters came to the Chronicle's attention through the Humanity Check network; for a refreshing dose of sanity, see their website.



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This story was published on April 28, 2004.