The chair of the US bishops' international justice and peace committee on Thursday called gratifying Israel's decision to suspend the annexation of parts of the West Bank, part of its normalization of relations with the United Arab Emirates, but reiterated the need for Israel to negotiate directly with Palestine.

Bishop David Malloy of Rockford said Aug. 20 that "it was gratifying to note that as part of this agreement, the State of Israel announced that it would suspend its efforts for annexation of disputed territory, a proposal not resulting from dialogue and agreement with the Palestinian authorities. The Catholic bishops of the United States have long held that both morally and as a basis for lasting peace, the two parties must negotiate directly and arrive at a fair compromise that respects the aspirations and needs of both peoples."

"As Catholic bishops, we join in this aspiration and know much work remains in the pursuit of peace in this region," he added.

The agreement, announced Aug. 13, makes the UAE the first Persian Gulf state, and after Egypt and Jordan, the third Arab nation, to have open diplomatic relations with Israel. Egypt, Oman, and Bahrain have all signed a letter of support for the agreement.

Iran's state news agency IRNA quoted the country's foreign ministry calling the agreement a "strategic act of idiocy" and "dangerous", and it has been denounced by Turkey.

In Defense of Christians, an advocacy group for Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East, called the agreement a "historic step in the peace process." It added: "We are pleased that Israel is suspending plans to annex new areas of the West Bank, as the historic Christian communities of the Holy Land have voiced their concern about this," but added that there is "much more work to be done" and that "we encourage all parties to Middle East Peace Talks to continue to consult with the historic Christian communities of the Holy Land in these negotiations."

A spokesperson for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinian government "rejects and denounces" the agreement.

"The Palestinian leadership rejects the actions of the Emirati government, considering it to be a betrayal of the Palestinian people and Jerusalem and al-Aqsa," said Nabil Abu Rudeineh.

After urging direct talks between Israel and Palestine, Bishop Malloy noted that during his 2019 visit to the UAE, Pope Francis stated that "Dialogue, understanding and the widespread promotion of a culture of tolerance, acceptance of others and of living together peacefully would contribute significantly to reducing many economic, social, political and environmental problems that weigh so heavily on a large part of humanity."

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The Rockford bishop stated that "it is our hope that this agreement will contribute to that peace."