Report on Jerusalem advocacy and US plan

November 15, 2002

 Report on Jerusalem advocacy and US plan

On November 7 a delegation of ten CMEP Board members and staff met with State Department officials to press the Administration to place a higher priority on Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. Our meeting was related to efforts of State diplomats William Burns and David Satterfield to promote their "road map" to a Palestinian state by the end of 2003. Today's New York Times has an interesting analysis on the Administration's efforts, by Steven Weisman, which is included at the end of this message.

In addition to urging the Administration to take action to halt Israel's settlement activity, we delivered a copy of a letter from CMEP that was being hand-delivered that day to members of the House International Relations and Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The letter is in response to the Congress's inclusion of controversial provisions related to Jerusalem in a bill authorizing funding for the State Department.  Included with the letter, and also included here, was a letter to the President from the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem.

(Letter printed on CMEP letterhead)

November 7, 2002

(members of HIR and SFRCommittees)
U.S. House of Representatives or United States Senate

Dear Representative/Senator (name):

During this extended session of the 107th Congress, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) asks for your attention to the repercussions of the provisions related to Jerusalem that were inserted into the Foreign Relations Authorization Act by conferees from the House International Relations Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

An urgent message to President Bush about the legislation from the Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem is enclosed.

Churches for Middle East Peace has consistently supported the long-standing policy of the United States government that the status of Jerusalem must be determined by negotiations by the parties and that the U.S. embassy in Israel remain in Tel Aviv until that time.  The issue of Jerusalem's status has long been a major concern of Churches for Middle East Peace, which advocates for a united city shared by the two peoples and three faiths, and which encourages a negotiated agreement toward that conclusion.

This legislative action, in conjunction with previous legislation to mandate that the President relocate the embassy to Jerusalem, gives the impression that the United States has recognized Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel that therefore negotiations are irrelevant. This has serious damaging effects on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

We urge you and the Congress to recognize the enormous sensitivity related to Jerusalem's status and to pass legislation that upholds U.S. policy and international law relative to Jerusalem.

Sincerely,
 

Corinne Whitlatch        Stan DeBoe, OSST
Director                          Chair
 
 

AN URGENT MESSAGE FROM THE HEADS OF CHURCHES IN JERUSALEM
TO PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH on October 7, 2002

Your Excellency,

We greet you from Jerusalem in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ - himself the Prince of Peace.

We are greatly troubled as we learn of the new legislation you have signed in recent days - specifically section 214 of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act (HR 1646) relating to Jerusalem.

At a time when so many efforts are being made to end the bloodshed and violence of this Land and work for peace it seems provocative to us that your Congress should seem to want to pre-empt the careful negotiation and legislation which have already been deemed necessary especially under the Oslo Agreement and UN Resolutions 242, 338.

East Jerusalem is occupied territory and as such should be currently protected by International law.

Areas of the City are sacred to Jews, Moslems and Christians.  As such, these areas need to be freely open and access safeguarded to adherents of these Faiths.
We fully appreciate the infinite patience, care and goodwill which will be necessary to resolve the final status of the Holy City of Jerusalem and therefore appeal to you not to jeopardize future peace efforts otherwise there will be increased suffering in an already troubled area.

The Very Revd Michael H. Sellors
Coordinator for the Heads of Churches
St. George's Cathedral-Jerusalem
P.O. Box 19810 Jerusalem 91190

----------------The website for the New York Times is nytimes.com---------------

November 15, 2002
U.S. Still Trying to Unfold Mideast Road Map
By STEVEN R. WEISMAN

WASHINGTON, Nov. 14 - For weeks, even as it has talked of a possible war with Iraq that could inflame the Middle East, the Bush administration has been pressing Israel and the Palestinian leadership to embrace an ambitious plan for reciprocal steps toward creating a Palestinian state.

Painstakingly negotiated with the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, the administration's so-called road map was thought by those who conceived it to have a better chance of success than the administration's previous forays into the Middle East arena.

But hopes of securing any agreement this year on the plan have now evaporated in the talk of war in Iraq, in the impending elections in Israel caused by the collapse of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's broad coalition and in the increasingly dire living conditions of many Palestinians.

"I am not sure there is anything anybody can do between now and the Israeli elections" in late January, said Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general. "But if we can keep talking, refining the road map and then be ready to move when the time comes, I think it will make a difference."

The Bush administration is also concerned to keep the plan alive - at least in part to allay Arab fears that Washington is fixated on Iraq at the expense of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. David Satterfield, a deputy assistant secretary of state, has been in the region this week to press Prime Minister Sharon to ease some of the curfews and travel restrictions Israel has imposed on the Palestinians while trying to persuade the Palestinians to stop attacks on Israeli citizens and to undertake reforms.

The road map, which outlines a step-by-step timetable of actions intended to create a Palestinian state, represents a departure in many ways from previous positions of Mr. Bush and his aides, and a significant departure from the approach of the Clinton administration.

First, the Bush administration has more assertively involved the Europeans, the Russians and the United Nations in forging a common approach, a a step that may help persuade Yasir Arafat to accept the plan, but one that has concerned Israeli officials, who regard these other parties as long unsympathetic to Israeli concerns.
In his first year of office, Mr. Bush belittled what he felt was the overinvolvement of the Clinton administration in the Middle East. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said repeatedly then that the United States had no intention of putting forward a peace plan.

Now, the situation is too urgent for the United States to stand aloof.

"The administration has come to realize that nothing will happen in the Middle East without active American involvement," said former Senator George Mitchell, who led a fact-finding mission in early 2001 that called for a Palestinian crackdown on terrorism and an Israeli freeze on settlements.

"The reality is that the only way back to the table is through a series of reciprocal steps by both sides," he said.

The road map calls for a first phase to last three months, during which the Palestinian Authority would resume security cooperation with the United States and Israel, call again for an end to armed attacks on Israelis and install a new cabinet and a prime minister to take over from Mr. Arafat.

In return, in the same three months, Israel would be required to end its attacks in Palestinian civilian areas, ease its curbs on the travel of Palestinian officials, lift curfews and unfreeze at least some tax revenues collected from the Palestinians.
The core of the road map is its call for eventual replacement of Mr. Arafat as the leader with whom the United States, Israel and other countries must negotiate. This was the objective outlined by Mr. Bush in his speech on the Middle East in the summer.

Complicating the situation now, according to Bush administration officials, is a new strain in the previously cordial ties between President Bush and Mr. Sharon.
Although Mr. Sharon visited the White House last month and proclaimed that ties between Israel and Washington had rarely been so close or harmonious, associates on both sides say that these tensions were most palpable in early October when Mr. Bush demanded that Israel end its 10-day siege of Mr. Arafat's compound in Ramallah. That siege, which largely destroyed the already battered compound, only increased the embattled Palestinian's popularity among his people, American officials said.

The officials said Mr. Bush was angry that Mr. Sharon had thus, in effect, undercut attempts to get the Palestinians to turn away from Mr. Arafat, and made it harder to rally Arab support for the president's campaign against Iraq.

A major cause for concern inside and outside the administration is what most experts say are the worst conditions among Palestinians they have ever seen. This week, for example, Mr. Annan gave a speech in Washington in which he deplored what he called an "atmosphere of gloom and defeatism" in the Middle East that could explode at any time.

Administration officials and outside observers speak of a frightened and despairing Israeli population, as well as what one called "horrific" conditions among the Palestinian people. These include pervasive malnutrition, families selling off their belongings, destroyed communities and a growing sense of isolation because of travel restrictions.

"We are facing a situation where all those years of progress in the Middle East are essentially going down the tubes," said a diplomat involved in the discussions with European leaders.

European officials say they fear a war in Iraq could further inflame the Arab world and jeopardize Israel's security even more. As a result, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, America's closest ally in Europe, has parted company with the administration and called for a full Middle East peace conference by the end of this year.

Administration officials dismiss suggestions from Europe and elsewhere that the United States is not doing all it can to promote the plan.

"It's great to say that with U.S. pressure, there can be progress," said an official. "It's always, if only the U.S. did this, or did that, everything would be O.K. It's not that easy."

In Israel, Mr. Sharon has said only that he accepts the idea of the road map, but that he is studying the details and has some concerns about it. Benjamin Netanyahu, the new foreign minister who is challenging Mr. Sharon for leadership of the Likud coalition, said last week that he too is studying it.

The main concern in Israel is that the road map calls for too many irrevocable Israeli actions, such as withdrawal from territories, before the Palestinians are required to disarm militants.

In response, administration officials note that the timetable is actually "performance-based," and cannot go forward without real progress in curbing Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians. Palestinians, meanwhile, view it as too lenient on the Israelis.
"It is obvious that there is a very serious effort by the United States to accommodate Mr. Sharon," said Hassan Abdul Rahman, the Palestinian envoy in Washington. "Over the last two years, this administration has shown a policy of great leniency toward Israel."

Administration officials say that the whole point of the road map is that it is a work in progress. "We are listening to the criticism," said an administration official. "Please understand that this is a document in a constant state of being perfected. That effort will go forward."

(The text of the American plan is at nytimes.com/world)

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Corinne Whitlatch, Director
Churches for Middle East Peace
100 Maryland Ave NE, #313
Washington, DC 20002
Telephone (202) 488-5613
Fax:  202-554-8223

www.cmep.org

Churches for Middle East Peace is a Washington based program of the American Friends Service Committee, 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, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Maryknoll Missioners, Mennonite Central Committee, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church