Bishops urge Obama to act quickly for Middle East peace

.- The U.S. Catholic bishops told President Obama to act quickly if a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to work, warning that the chance for peace could be fleeting.

“If the opportunity for a two-state solution is missed,” they said in a May 20 letter, “there almost inevitably will be renewed violent conflict with more suffering for Israelis and Palestinians, and increased dangers of extremism.”

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the bishops’ international justice and peace chairman Bishop Howard J. Hubbard sent the May 20 letter to the president on behalf of the U.S. Catholic bishops.

Together with a group of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish leaders, they praised the president's “strong affirmation … that peace is possible” between Israel and the Palestinians. In a May 19 speech, President Obama called for negotiations that would establish a Palestinian state on the basis of Israel's 1967 borders, with land swaps that would be “mutually agreed-upon.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes the approach would compromise Israel's security, and there are further concerns about what policy the new Palestinian unity government – incorporating the Hamas and Fatah factions – will take toward Israel. Last year, peace talks broke down over the issue of Israeli settlements.

The bishops, however, believe that neither party can afford to forestall negotiations – nor can the U.S. take the risk of withdrawing support from the Palestinians.

“We believe the United States, in coordination with the Quartet, should continue to respond carefully to the new Palestinian unity agreement,” the bishops stated. They urged the president not to “cut off aid that is essential for humanitarian purposes and for building the capacity of a future Palestinian state.”

For its part, the Hamas-Fatah unity government “must commit itself to rejecting violence and negotiating a two-state peace agreement with Israel.” The bishops said the U.S. and its international partners “should insist on these commitments” from the Palestinian side.

The Catholic bishops and other religious leaders once again affirmed their support for a peace proposal brought forward by a group of former Israeli government officials in March of 2011. That proposal, like President Obama's, involves a return to Israel's 1967 borders “with agreed modifications.”

They renewed their call for President Obama to visit Jerusalem, in order to offer “urgently needed, strong, sustained U.S. leadership “ to Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

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