(WASHINGTON, March 14, 2002) -- Church leaders today welcomed the United Nations Security Council passage of a U.S.-initiated resolution proclaiming support for a Palestinian state. However, they cautioned that the resolution could be relegated to a fate of futility if not swiftly followed by concrete steps that bring an end to current Israeli-Palestinian violence and a resumption of negotiations toward full implementation of the U.N. "land-for-peace" formula.
Commenting through a national ecumenical coalition named Churches for Middle East Peace, the leaders made clear that the United States must use the resolution as a springboard to propose and implement clear-cut initiatives that will stop the violence, return both parties to negotiations, and end the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Dennis Frado, U.N. representative for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said of the United Nations Security Council action, "This U.N. Security Council resolution breaks new ground because it is the first time the Council has gone on record specifically endorsing the creation of a Palestinian state. More importantly, it comes at a most critical time for all people of the region. Now, hopefully, the U.S. will support Council discussions of various peace initiatives such as that of the Saudi Crown Prince. The U.N. Security Council remains the best forum in which to fulfill and implement U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338 and bring an end to the conflict."
The church leaders, many of whom have been in close contact with Palestinian Christian churches in recent days, supported the U.N. resolution but warned that words must be followed by action if more senseless deaths are to be avoided. Father Drew Christiansen, S.J., senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center and long-time adviser on Mideast affairs to the U.S. Catholic bishops, stated, "Every day our hearts weep at the suffering in Palestine and Israel. I pray that the U.N. action will lead both Israelis and Palestinians to a cessation of violence and an immediate return to negotiations within the framework of international law. Unless the occupation ends, no one can expect a ceasefire to last."
Father Christiansen continued, "I hope that just as Vice President Cheney condemned Palestinian violence, which we see as intolerable, he will by the same token make absolutely clear that Israel has to stop its killing of Palestinian civilians in their homes, withdraw its weaponry, and cede the territories to others - either to the Palestinians or to international authorities."
This theme was echoed by James Matlack, Washington office director for the American Friends Service Committee. After conferring with Quaker staff in the region, Matlack commented, "There is a desperate need to end the violence on all sides. The quickest and surest way to do so - the path that can lead to peace and security for all parties - is for Israel to commit itself and move promptly to end its occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. Though the United Nations now calls for creation of a Palestinian state, the lands on which it would be created - and its people - are under daily and devastating Israeli assault. And sadly, these lethal attacks are often carried out using weapons and munitions supplied by the United States."
Churches for Middle East Peace has worked diligently for nearly two decades with policymakers in Washington to encourage steps that will produce a comprehensive and just peace. For American church leaders, the U.S. role remains key. Father Christiansen expressed relief at the opportunities offered by Zinni's visit: "I am hopeful that the U.S. is now declaring that it can not and will not sit on the sidelines and will instead pursue a solution within the United Nations. Though words alone will not cause the killings of Palestinians and Israelis to cease, the right words to the right people can go a long way toward making this happen. The special envoy must speak those words to both Prime Minister Sharon and Chairman Arafat. This deadly spiral must be ended now."
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 and Witness, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, Mennonite Central Committee, National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, Unitarian Universalist Association, United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church.