US bishops join call for new Middle East peace talks

.- The U.S. Catholic bishops have joined a coalition of Christian, Jewish, and Muslims leaders urging the president and secretary of state to take advantage of a new opportunity for peace between Israel and the Palestinian territories.

“We believe the Israeli peace initiative, the earlier Arab Peace Initiative, and the Geneva Accord, taken together, offer key principles and ideas for negotiations to achieve comprehensive Arab-Israeli-Palestinian peace,” the bishops and other leaders stated in an April 14 letter to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

A group of former Israeli government, intelligence, and security officials recently brought forward the proposal to create a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza according to Israel's 1967 borders. It would also allow Israel and the Palestinians to share control of Jerusalem, and provide for the return of Palestinian refugees according to a consensus agreement between the two sides.

Among the signatories were Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the retired Archbishop of Washington, D.C., and Bishop Howard J. Hubbard, chairman of the bishops' committee on justice and peace. A collection of Muslim clerics and Jewish rabbis, mostly from Reform denominations, also gave their endorsement.

“We believe the United States … should support these elements being addressed in negotiations on an urgent basis,” the religious leaders told President Obama. “In addition, of particular concern to our communities are guarantees for free access to Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy places.”

“We encourage you to visit Jerusalem and the region soon to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to discuss the next steps toward achieving peace based on the principles and ideas in these peace initiatives.”

President Obama pursued a plan for reconciling Israel and the Palestinians during 2010, in cooperation with the “quartet” that includes the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia. However, those negotiations stalled in September 2010 when a moratorium on Jewish settlements ran out and was not extended. Tension increased when Palestinian radicals killed a Jewish settler family in March 2011.

Larger-scale violence has erupted since that incident. Israeli airstrikes and shelling killed nine Palestinians, at least four of whom were reportedly civilians, in the Gaza Strip on March 22. The next day, a bomb attack killed one woman in a Jewish district of central Jerusalem. Palestinians have also intensified their rocket attacks against Israel, which had never entirely ceased since the 2009 war in Gaza.

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