FROM:  Corinne Whitlatch, CMEP Director
RE: Church leaders' letters on Road Map
May 15, 2003

Through the efforts of Churches for Middle East Peace, the head leaders of U.S. churches and church agencies have signed letters encouraging the implementation of the Road Map peace plan.  The joint letter to Prime Ministers Sharon and Abbas was delivered yesterday to the Embassy of Israel and the Mission of the PLO by CMEP's Executive Committee and Director. Another letter, also signed by the church leaders, was directed to the President and Members of Congress and was delivered to them along with the Prime Minister letter. A press release, included in this message, informed the media of the letters and church leaders' perspectives. Complete texts of the letters and the listing of church signers can be found at www.cmep.org/letters/2003May14_roadmap.htm. or also in the attached word file.
 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

U.S. Church Leaders Urge Boldness by Israeli and Palestinian Leaders

(WASHINGTON, May 14, 2003)  The leaders of United States churches and church organizations today sent letters to both the Israeli and Palestinian Prime Ministers urging them to take the bold steps necessary for peace.  The letters were delivered two days prior to the first scheduled meeting between Prime Minister Sharon of Israel and Prime Minister Abbas of the Palestinian Authority.

Coordinating their efforts through Churches for Middle East Peace, a coalition of 18 Catholic and Protestant organizations, the signers included the leaders of many of the largest and oldest Christian denominations in the United States, including the Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, United Methodist Church, Reformed Church in America, Unitarian Universalist Association, National Council of Churches, many historic peace churches, and the heads of U.S. Catholic organizations.

The Rev. Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA), called the letter "an effort by U.S. church leaders to address the leaders of the Israeli and Palestinian people directly as they begin the arduous but imperative process of moving toward peace and security."  Observing that their letters coincided with the effort by the Quartet to push the Road Map for Israeli-Palestinian peace, Kirkpatrick was adamant that "it is our true desire to stand with both the Israeli and Palestinian people who are exhausted by violence, know the occupation of Palestinian territories must cease, and understand that a viable, independent Palestinian state should exist alongside a secure Israel."

The church leaders' letter to the Prime Ministers states clearly, "The occupation of Palestinian territories, which has severely stunted the development and character of both societies, must end.  Violence by terrorists, extremists and military forces must end."

Noting that the letter calls on both parties to carry out steps in the Road Map simultaneously, Marie Dennis, Director of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, affirmed, "The future of the Palestinians is tied to their ability to demonstrate to the Israelis their will to live in peace.  The future of Israelis will necessarily involve their returning to the Palestinians the territories occupied since 1967.  This basic path to peace and security is clear to most Israelis and Palestinians.  It is now up to the leaders of both peoples to have the political courage to follow that path and to take the necessary steps along the way."

In addition to the letters to the Prime Ministers, the U.S. church leaders also delivered a letter to President Bush and to all Members of the U.S. Congress.  In it they confirmed the need for strong, unified U.S. leadership in this new Middle East peace effort.

The Rev. John Thomas, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, remarked, "Too often in the past Congress has acted in ways that have been particularly punitive to the Palestinian people.  We are saying to all U.S. government officials that a fair, balanced, and wise peace process is the only one that can succeed."  Thomas continued, "We are encouraged that the U.S. Administration has elected to move forward with the Road Map and to send Secretary of State Powell to the region.  We urge President Bush and Secretary Powell to be firm with both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and as we said in our letter, '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.'"

Kirkpatrick summarized his colleagues' position: "Certainly, we understand that we have asked the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to take significant political risks.  We also understand that if someone does not do so soon, both the Israeli and Palestinian people may be doomed to a continuing cycle of escalating violence.  That is an outcome that is unacceptable and will be destructive not only in the region but for the world."

The church leaders' letter to the Prime Ministers concludes, "we appeal to Christians, to Jews, and to Muslims to join us in prayer for your strength of leadership, breadth of compassion, and depth of wisdom in paving the way for peace in the land all call Holy."

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Formed in 1984, Churches for Middle East Peace is a Washington-based program of the Alliance of Baptists, 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.

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Holly Byker, Office Manager
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