Statement on Israeli/Palestinian peace process

Edmond L. Browning

Presiding Bishop and Primate Episcopal Church of the United States

September 5, 1997

I continue to be outraged and heartbroken at acts of terrorism against innocent Israelis committed by extremists opposed to the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. And I commend President Clinton for his decision to move ahead with Secretary Albright's visit to the region as planned for September 9. The peace process cannot be held captive to violence. And I commend Yasser Arafat for his swift condemnation of this latest atrocity. I also encourage efforts being made by the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government, assisted by the United States, to identify those responsible for these heinous crimes. The perpetrators need to be apprehended, charged and prosecuted. Cooperative strategies are the best hope to succeed in stamping out this scourge. Unilateral action by Israel in pursuit of suspects within territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority will only further exacerbate the problem. Great responsibility rests with President Arafat in combatting terrorism from the Palestinian side and I urge him to make concrete advances in this effort and to make his words clear in action by putting an end to terrorism against the Israeli people. In doing so, it is morally improper to demand that President Arafat not pursue dialogue and reconciliation with his Palestinian adversaries. While fighting terrorism, his efforts to build consensus for peace among all Palestinian constituencies should be encouraged. The struggle against terrorism must be pursued vigorously, but the continuation of the peace process must move forward in tandem with these efforts as well. If the peace process continues to be suspended pending apprehension of all terrorists, then the terrorists get what they want. They must not be given any satisfaction or encouragement that their tactics are working. There is also much that Prime Minister Netanyahu can do to reverse the hopelessness that gives rise to the violence. First, the closure of Israel and East Jerusalem to Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank, the restricted movement within the territories and the imposition of sanctions is a form of collective punishment which is intolerable. It punishes the innocent by robbing them of their employment, denying them access to medical and cultural institutions, preventing their conduct of legitimate business and pursuing worship in their places of choice. Collective punishment is an injustice that enrages the general population and gives fuel to those who would advocate violence. Innocent Palestinians no more deserve such punishment than Israeli citizens deserve being targets of terrorists. Second, the Israeli government must confront its policy of settlement expansion in the territories and impose a permanent suspension, including in East Jerusalem, and must desist from destroying Palestinian homes. Settlement expansion and destruction of homes undermine the efforts to curb terrorism and instead become a pretext for further violence. Suspension of these actions, coupled with the opening of the airport and seaport in Gaza and free passage between Gaza and the West Bank would do much to isolate the terrorists and prepare the climate for final status negotiations on the remaining issues, including the resolution of Jerusalem as the capital of two sovereign states. The role of the United States is crucial and neither side will be able to move forward without the U.S. fulfilling its obligations as a sponsor of the peace process. Both sides are under enormous pressure from some of their own constituencies to scuttle the quest for peace. I urge Secretary Albright to call for courage and vision from their leadership and, if necessary, to apply diplomatic and economic pressure to achieve compliance with the Oslo accords. My prayers are with Secretary Albright, Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Arafat and all Palestinians and Israelis in the critical days ahead.

Edmond L. Browning Presiding Bishop and Primate Episcopal Church of the United States

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