In an exclusive interview with CNA earlier this week, Bishop Thomas Wenski took time to explain why the Bishop’s Conference supports a two state solution to bring peace to the Holy Land. The USCCB Chairman of the Committee on International Policy made his comments in light of the upcoming Annapolis peace conference, due to begin on November 27.
Bishop Wenski began by pointing to a letter published by the Orlando Sentinel this past week, in which he was joined by leaders from the Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions, who voiced their belief that “peace between Israelis and Palestinians is possible.”
In their letter, the religious leaders all agree that the way to bring peace about is “the creation of a two-state solution, a recognized and secure Israel and an independent and viable Palestinian state, comprising the West Bank and Gaza, living side-by-side in peace with each other.”
Endorsing dialogue as the means to achieve peace, the leaders wrote, “[p]eace in the land holy to the three major monotheistic religions will not be won by military means, but only through a negotiated settlement that is built on realistic compromises and concrete reciprocal steps that inspire confidence and help overcome decades of mutual suspicion and hostility.”
Causes of the Stalemate
Bishop Wenski lamented the fact many factors are contributing to “the continuing stalemate in the region.” Among the causes he cited were: weak leadership on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides, Hamas’ role in the Gaza Strip, the building of the security wall by the Israelis, and the continuing expansion of Jewish settlements in the Western bank.
In addition, “Israel seems to be reducing the Palestinian territories into a series of cantons…and cutting them off from each other,” the bishop said.
Another obstacle to peace is “the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where most of the population lives on less than a dollar a day, threatens the sustainability of any political settlement and thus the security of Israel,” the leaders wrote.
Ascendancy of Iran
Wenski also mentioned the fact that the situation in Israel and Palestine is linked to the recent ascendancy of Iran. “I think that a lot of the neighbors of Israel understand that the continuing conflict between Israelis and the Palestinians strengthens Iran’s efforts to gain influence in the region. Most of the Arab states recognize that as a threat to their interests,” he said.
The international policy chairman also gave some advice on what the Israelis and Palestinians should do to make the Annapolis peace summit a success. The preparation for the conference should include “Palestinian steps to strengthen policing and improve security and the recognition of Israel; Israeli steps to halt expansion of settlements and improve freedom of movement to help revive the shattered Palestinian economy; and the recognition of a Palestinian state. An effective ceasefire is indispensable.”