Church leaders urge 'boldness' in search for Middle East peace

May 13, 2003

Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold joined other church leaders in an urgent appeal to Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers to take the bold steps necessary for peace in the Middle East. They also sent a letter to the president and members of Congress seeking their support for peace efforts.

The May 14 letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel and Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority offered prayers and encouragement in the wake of release of the "Road Map to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict." The church leaders said, "We pray that this initiative will reawaken the hopes and will fulfill the longings of your peoples that this longstanding conflict be resolved and the vision of two nations living in peace realized. Your bold leadership is required, now more than ever, for this to happen."

The letter called for an end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, arguing that it "has severely stunted the development and character of both societies." It also called for end to "violence by terrorists, extremists and military forces."

The Road Map calls for incremental steps by both sides leading to creation of a Palestinian state by 2005. The letter argues that the "immediate engagement" of representatives of the Quartet that devised the plan--the U.S., European Union, United Nations and Russia--as international monitors to "provide visible evidence to both Israeli and Palestinian peoples that the rest of the world is prepared to help with the necessary steps to end the spiral of violence and allow for the creation of two peaceful and secure states."

The letter acknowledged "predictable obstacles along this road," including the use of violence to derail the process, political repercussions in both camps, and the issue of monitoring implementation of the plan. "Success of the road map will require sustained U.S. involvement and a commitment by this administration and Congress to a just solution for both parties in the conflict," said the Rev. Brian Grieves, director of the church's Office of Governmental Relations.

In the letter to the president and members of Congress, the church leaders expressed hopes for the strong leadership that will be necessary to "bring an end to the occupation and build peace and security. Only then will the Palestinian people and Israel be freed of the constraints of a conflict that has polarized Jews, Christians, and Muslims and played into the hands of religious extremists in each of these faiths." The letter urged the president not to be "dissuaded by the views of those who cannot see that the wellbeing and security of the modern state of Israel and the future state of Palestine are inherently connected."

The letter also warned, "It would be a mistake of historic dimensions if the Congress of the United States were to thwart progress toward peace by placing conditions on the implementation of the Road Map."

The letters and their delivery were coordinated through Churches for Middle East Peace, a coalition of 18 Roman Catholic and Protestant churches and organizations working for a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians. Jere Skipper, policy analyst in the Washington Office, represents the Episcopal Church on the CMEP board.

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