US Religious Leaders

1- Introduction

2- Letter to Clinton

3- Letter of Clarification

From Origins

March 23, 1995 page 671 & 672

1- Introduction

Eight U.S. Christian leaders, including Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, asked President Clinton in a March 6 letter to take action to place Jerusalem's future higher on the U.S. government's agenda.

Later the letter drew objections from the members of the Jewish community.

The American Jewish Committee, for example, said the letter to Clinton "puts the onus on Israel and Israel alone, as if Israel were operating in a vacuum and not in a dangerous and unpredictable situation." B'nai B'rith said the Christian leaders had inserted themselves "in the active and ongoing peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians."

Thus, after meeting with Jewish community leaders at his residence March 13, Keeler issued a letter of clarification March 15, addressed to the nine Jewish leaders whom he met. He clarified the letter's intent and the context of his signature which entails "in the first instance the record of the U.S. Catholic bishops, especially our 1989 statement on the Middle East." Keller said, "The commitment of Israel to the peace process and the risks it takes to pursue peace are to be aknowledged".

Keeler also discussed the occasion of the letter to Clinton. "This was the increasing fear expressed to us by Christians in the area that certain 'developments on the ground' in and around Jerusalem might preclude vital aspects of the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Thus it was to preserve the peace process being carried out by the principals in the region that we felt we had to raise our voice in the American arena."

Signers of the letter to Clinton also included Sulpician Father Gerald Brown, president of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, and Episcopal, Lutheran and Greek and Antiochian Orthodox church leaders, along with the heads of World Vision and the American Friends Service Committee.

Their letter was titled "Jerusalem: City of Peace."

"The goal of a 'warm peace' between Israel and its Arab neighbors can only be achieved in the context of a shared city where the interests of all the parties are respected," it said.

2- Letter to President Clinton,

March 5, 1995

"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!" (Ps. 122:6).

Jerusalem, sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, is the spiritual heritage of all the children of Abraham, and all believers share the longing for the time when all nations find it truly the city of peace.

The story of Jerusalem is a tragic one, and in the web of history members of the three faiths are not innocent of one another's blood. Today, however, we stand at a special point in history' where the future of Jerusalem is open to peaceful negotiation. The three communities of faith must have a part in those deliberations.

Mr. President, we appeal to you as representative leaders of Christian communions and organizations in the United States with strong ties to the Middle East. We ask that in its role as facilitator to the Middle East peace process, the U.S. government place the question of Jerusalem higher on its agenda.

Above all we ask that the administration use its influence to prevent this vital issue from being settled by force of events or the creation of facts on the ground. We fear that if issues centering on Jerusalem are not dealt with openly and directly by all affected parties, they have the potential to derail the peace process.

At the same time, we believe that making Jerusalem a subject for open negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians is essential for reaching an accord on the question of Jerusalem. Representatives of the three Abrahamic religions must have a role in shaping the ultimate resolution of issues affecting historic Jerusalem and the cornmitment of the international community to guaranteeing the living presence of the three religious communities in the holy city.

We come to you because developments on the ground in the Jerusalem area leave less and less for negotiation the last phase of the peace process.

-In contravention of international law, more and more land is being taken out of Palestinian hands and placed under Israeli control by annexation, expropriation and private purchases, often coercive or of questionable legality.

-Israeli planning for "Greater Jerusalem" is an open secret. And,

-Israel's assertion that Jerusalem will remain the "eternal and undivided capital of Israel" is widely interpreted as a claim of exclusive Israeli sovereignty over the city that pre-empts genuine negotiation.

We are concerned:

-That the administration is backing away from long-term U.S. policy that East Jerusalem is subject to U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 regarding territories occupied by Israeli armed forces in 1967.

-That the administration is failing to recognize and support Palestinian rights and interests in Jerusalem.

-That the administration is not using its considerable influence to halt Israeli construction in East Jerusalem and continuing expansion into Palestinian areas.

It is our conviction, Mr. President, that a resolution of the question of Jerusalem has the potential for advancing cooperation between the three Abrahamic faiths or sowing the seeds of new religious conflicts between Muslims, Jews and Christians.

The future of Jerusalem must not be pre-empted by the actions of one party. Only a negotiated agreement that respects the human and political rights of Palestinians and Israelis as well as the three religious communities can lead to a lasting peace. The goal of a "warm peace" between Israel and its Arab neighbors can only be achieved in the context of a shared city where the interests of all parties are respected.

In view of the deteriorating conditions on the ground and the central importance of this issue to the peace process, we urge you to use your good offices to see that the negotiators take up the question of Jerusalem as soon as possible and that the position of the United States fully reflects the concerns expressed in this statement.

3- Cardinal Keeler's March 15 Clarification

It was a privilege to host your distinguished group of Jewish leaders. I have known and worked with almost all of you over the years. Together we have tackled and even anticipated a wide range of challenges. I deeply appreciate that it was in the spirit of this relationship that you expressed so clearly to me the questions and concerns occasioned in the Jewish community by the statement on Jerusalem on March 6 which I signed together with seven other Christian leaders. I shall try' to respond with he same spirit of candor and warm good feelings.

Our dialogue surfaced issues of both procedure and content. With regard to the former, a renewed commitment to an ongoing process of mutual consultation on issues of central importance to our communities should be a result of otir meeting. We share so many of the same hopes and need to draw on each other's strengths and insights in bringing them into reality. On the Catholic side, we have learned in previous consultations that statements have been enriched and clarified by such a process.

With regard to the substance of the statement, I need to put on the record the context within which I signed the statement, something of the serious concerns which prompted it and a clarification of its intent.

The context of my signature should have been clear to all. It is in the first instance the record of the.U.S. Catholic bishops, especially our 1989 statement on the Middle East, and also a series of subsequent statements addressing the particular applications of the principles of the 1989 statement.

With regard more specifically to Israel, I am happy to reaffirm our conference's stance: The commitment of Israel to the peace process and the risks it takes to pursue peace are to be acknowledged. The terrorist attacks against Israelis, designed to disrupt the peace process, are to be condemned. The respect Israel has shown over the years to the religiously pluralistic nature of its citizenry, Jewish, Christian and Muslim, as embodied in its adherence to the traditional status quo and most recently in the language of the Fundamental Accord between the Holy See and the state of Israel, is to be praised.

It should be clear that all who participate directly in the peace negotiations, Israel, its Arab neighbors and the Palestinian people, have responsibility for the process and its success.

There are no 'one-sided" issues in the Middle East. The decline in Christian population is a phenomenon of the past decades throughout the Middle Fast, not just in Jerusalem, and it, too, has multiple causes, most typically economic considerations and political unrest.

What occasioned the Christian statement remains the substance of the issue.

This was the increasing fear expressed to us by Christians in the area that certain "developments on the ground" in and around Jerusalem might preclude vital aspects of the peace negotiations between rsrael and the Palestinians.

Thus, it was to preserve the peace process being carried out by the principals in the region that we felt we had to raise our voice within the American arena. All sides involved in the peace process, Israeli, Palestinian or neighboring Arab states, should avoid actions which would jeopardize it.

Our endeavor is to see that as a sponsor of the peace process, the U.S. government addresses actions by any party which may prejudice issues scheduled for negotiation.

The intent of the statement was not to suggest that the negotiators, in this case the Israelis and the Palestinians, should change their agreed schedule as to when the issue of Jerusalem will be formally addressed. Nor was it the intent of the statement to endorse any particular position on the permanent status of Jerusalem.

Rather, it was to preserve all options and possible solutions until the principals could address them. Similarly, we did not intend that outsiders should enter the peace process, but that in the matter of Jerusalem, representatives of the local religious communities should be involved in the discussions pertinent to their rights and needs as religious communities, proposed by local Christian leaders themselves in their declaration of Nov.14, 1994.

The Christian statement concludes with a thought around which all of us, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim, may well unite. "Only a negotiated agreement that respects the human and political rights of Palestinians and Israelis as well as the three religious communities can lead to a lasting peace."

keeler.htm We can, together, call on our respective communities to pray ceaselessly for that great goal, God's gift of peace.