Christian leaders in the Holy Land have urged Israel not to carry out unilateral withdrawals from the West Bank


Christian leaders in the Holy Land have urged Israel not to carry out unilateral withdrawals from the West Bank following the election of Kadima the centrist party founded by Ariel Sharon, the prime minister who is in a coma.

Unilateral measures will probably bring some temporary solutions, but such measures will not end the mutual mistrust and misunderstanding between the two peoples living in this beloved and blessed Land,” leaders of the biggest churches in the Holy Land said in a 29 March statement.

They urged Israel “to demonstrate courage and wisdom by resuming the peace process with the Palestinians” after the election as well as to open dialogue with the new Palestinian leadership led by the Islamist Hamas movement.

Israel’s likely future prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said in his victory speech he would seek to negotiate a final peace treaty with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. But, he said, if talks failed, then Israel would withdraw from most of the West Bank while holding on to a few large Jewish settlement blocs, effectively unilaterally determining its permanent borders.

Since a separate election in January, the Palestinian government is being led by the Hamas movement, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, and which has killed hundreds of people in suicide bombings over the past decade.

Hamas has so far rejected international calls to renounce terrorism, disarm and recognise Israel’s right to exist. Israel has said it will have no contact with a Hamas government and has frozen the transfers of US$50 million a month in taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.

The movement’s leaders have said the group could offer Israel a temporary truce of up to 15 years if it withdrew from all of the West Bank.

The churches in the Holy Land, representing Christians who are a tiny minority, have urged Hamas to moderate its position as well as refrain from imposing any changes to the cultural and religious fabric in the Palestinian territories such as by introducing Sharia or strict Islamic law.

“As Christian leaders we are determined to do all we can to promote peace, mutual understanding and justice amongst all, hoping to find a similar determination from the religious leaders of Judaism and Islam,” the church statement said.