April 10, 2002

    President George W. Bush
    The White House
    Washington, D.C. 20500


    Dear Mr. President:

    I write concerning the spiral of violence in the Holy Land, which, as Pope
    John Paul II has said, "has increased to unimaginable and intolerable
    levels." We welcome your strong, repeated calls in recent days for Israel to
    withdraw immediately from the Palestinian territories it has re-occupied and
    for the Palestinian Authority to renounce and do all in its power to halt
    suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks. We also welcome your decision
    to send Secretary of State Powell to the region in an effort to bring about
    a cease-fire and to prepare the ground for a resumption of the peace
    process. In light of this visit by the Secretary of State, I wanted to
    reiterate our particular concerns, including regarding the serious
    confrontation at the Church of the Nativity, as well as some broader
    concerns about a peaceful resolution to this long-standing and deadly
    conflict.

    First, it is clearer now than ever before that the present state of affairs
    is unacceptable. Palestinian attacks on innocent civilians cannot be
    tolerated --both because they are morally abhorrent and because they
    undermine the legitimate claims of the Palestinian people. Israeli
    occupation and efforts to dismantle the Palestinian Authority cannot be
    sustained --militarily or morally. Nor can the indiscriminate and excessive
    use of force in civilian areas, and the failure of the Israeli military to
    permit humanitarian access for the civilian population be justified. These
    and other actions indicate that the Israeli assault has gone far beyond
    efforts to combat terrorism and, in fact, risks fueling it. Immediate
    withdrawal is essential. This deadly cycle of action and reaction, suicide
    bombing and aggressive attacks must be ended.

    Second, as the Holy See has made clear to Israeli authorities, the
    unprecedented and untenable situation at the Church of the Nativity must be
    resolved in a way that respects the 'Status Quo' of the Holy Places (i.e.,
    the legal arrangements safeguarding the sanctity of these sites), as agreed
    in the Fundamental Accord of 1993 between the Holy See and the State of
    Israel, as well as the Basic Accord of 2000 with the Palestinian Authority.
    I urge you to do all that you can, publicly and privately, to insist that
    both sides withdraw from this confrontation and accept proposals of the
    religious leaders in the Holy Land to end it peacefully.

    Third, with strong U.S. encouragement, the parties must embrace an immediate
    cease-fire and should seriously consider international monitors or
    peacekeepers to enforce it. As difficult as it may seem, there should be a
    return to the arduous task of negotiating a just peace, without delay or
    pre-conditions. We hope that your new diplomatic initiatives, the Arab
    League's embrace of the Saudi peace initiative, and elements of the Mitchell
    and Tenet reports can provide the basis for returning to serious dialogue
    based, as far as possible, on the last rounds of final status talks.

    Fourth, despite recent events, the elements of a just and lasting peace
    remain the same: a viable state for Palestinians, real security for the
    State of Israel, just resolution of the refugee problem, an agreement on
    Jerusalem which protects religious freedom and other basic rights, and
    implementation of relevant UN resolutions and other provisions of
    international law. As a supporter of the State of Israel and a state for
    Palestinians, the United States, in collaboration with the international
    community, can play a constructive role by continuing to be clear that it
    recognizes that each side in this conflict has deep, long-standing and
    legitimate grievances that must be addressed if there is to be a just and
    lasting peace.

    Palestinians rightly insist on an end to Israel's occupation of the West
    Bank and Gaza and to the continued establishment and expansion of
    settlements. Palestinians see this occupation, maintained by force and
    marked by daily indignities, abuse and violence, as a central underlying
    cause of the present crisis. Israelis rightly see the failure of some
    Palestinians to demonstrate full respect for Israel's right to exist and
    flourish within secure borders as a fundamental cause of the conflict. Even
    in the current situation, Palestinian leaders must clearly and unequivocally
    renounce terrorist violence and terrorist acts against innocent civilians,
    and must show the Israeli people that they are fully committed to prepare
    their people to live in peace with Israel. Moreover, both Palestinian and
    Israeli leaders must refrain from inciting hatred against the other. One of
    the tragedies of the current crisis is that it has so damaged prospects for
    development of the new attitudes of understanding and mutual respect without
    which neither side will be able to achieve their legitimate goals.

    With constructive and persistent U.S. involvement, it is not too late to
    help pave the way to a future of cooperation and accommodation rather than
    occupation and destructive conflict in the Holy Land. Please be assured of
    my prayers and best wishes as you attempt to provide this much needed
    leadership.
    Sincerely,
 

    Most Reverend Wilton D. Gregory
    Bishop of Belleville
    President, USCCB