April 11, 2003

TO: Churches for Middle East Peace Email Network
RE: CMEP press statement on upcoming "Road Map"

This was released today through a newswire service and faxed to media relating to the UN and other Quartet members.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE  Contact:  Jim Wetekam  Churches for Middle East Peace

Church Leaders Encourage New Initiatives to Propel Israeli-Palestinian Peace

(WASHINGTON, April 11, 2003)  As the world's political leaders continued to promise the release of a "Road Map" for Middle East peace, U.S. church leaders in Washington urged the Bush Administration to move swiftly and resolutely toward reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.  At the same time, they offered elements considered essential if the road map is to compel both Israelis and Palestinians to take effective steps for establishing two peaceful and secure states side-by-side.

Commenting through Churches for Middle East Peace, a coalition of 17 Catholic and Protestant organizations and denominations, the church leaders declared that the Israeli-Palestinian crisis remains the most critical matter to resolve in the Middle East.

"We are encouraged," said Corinne Whitlatch, director of the coalition, "by positive statements made by President Bush, Secretary Powell, and National Security Advisor Rice regarding the need to reinvigorate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.  While we await the specifics of the Quartet's road map, Churches for Middle East Peace urges the U.S. to continue this cooperation with the United Nations, European Union, and Russia and to press forward with a vigorous plan.  We believe, too, that the plan must contain provisions that both sides implement simultaneously.  It's not a question of which party, Israel or the Palestinians, must act first.  Rather, both sides must take comparable steps to build confidence of the other government and people so that an Israeli-Palestinian peace can be obtained."

Rev. Mark Brown, associate director of the Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs, enumerated one of the key elements that must be present in any road map.  "Americans must understand how despair currently pervades both Israeli and Palestinian societies.  The first objective of any road map must be to begin the process of restoring hope to the people.  We have to display to them that the rest of the world is committed to helping build this peace, too.  Both peoples now fear violence, whether an Israeli dreading the random possibility of a terrorist bomb attack or a Palestinian fearful that he or she might become the innocent victim of an Israeli assassination or retaliatory attack."

Brown contended that a team of multinational observers would be essential if the road map were to succeed.  "Our churches currently have people who have traveled to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza and who act as 'accompaniers' of both Palestinians and Israelis.  Their presence is our attempt to limit the violence.  But these church accompaniers and others are there as ordinary concerned citizens interested in peacemaking.  Obviously, they have no enforcement authority and can't prevent violence.  In fact, in the last month one American has been killed and another injured while trying to prevent violence."

"What is really needed," continued Brown, "is for multinational observer teams to be on the ground.  This would provide evidence that the international community is serious about restraining violence by both sides and would allow for the renewal of confidence and hope among the people.  Such restraint and confidence-building is a key ingredient that allows the governments and people to make necessary concessions that can bring peace to the region."

Whitlatch noted that the idea of multinational observers was beginning to gain momentum among policymakers.  She cited a recent letter to the President from Senator John Warner (R-VA), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  The letter urges the President to include a NATO peacekeeping force in the Occupied Territories as part of the road map.  Whitlatch concluded, "Though we think it is too early to characterize the exact nature of such an observer team, it is increasingly understood that this is the time to reinvigorate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and that international observers will be integral to its implementation."
 

Formed in 1984, 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, 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.  For further information, see www.cmep.org.