ZENIT.ORG
The division of Jerusalem and the Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories are two key points for the upcoming Israeli-Palestinian direct peace talks, according to Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

The prelate made this claim over the weekend on Vatican Radio regarding the beginning of a new round of talks between the Israel and the Palestinian Authority, orchestrated by U.S. President Barack Obama, which will be held at the White House in Washington, D.C.

On Sept. 1, the president will meet separately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.  The next day, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will meet with the two in a joint meeting. The talks are being held with no preconditions, and they have a one-year deadline.

Also on hand for the talks will be Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, and King Abdullah II of Jordan, as well as the Middle East diplomatic Quartet: the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia.
 
In the Vatican Radio interview, Bishop Shomali spoke first of “the withdrawal from the occupied territories. Israel did not have the intention to leave and abandon everything.”

“The second point,” he continued, “is Jerusalem, but Jerusalem is part of the territorial problem. For Israel, Jerusalem is the exclusive capital of Israel. If it agrees to share and give the old city to the Palestinians, everything will go well. If they do not agree, it would be a big problem.”

Skeptical

The auxiliary bishop admitted that he is a little skeptical about the good outcome of the negotiations “because this is the umpteenth time that they have come back to the negotiating table, so we have a limited optimism.”

“Everything depends,” he said, “on how much pressure the Americans are able to exert on the two, especially on Israel to withdraw.”

But the principle objective remains two states, because “without two states there is no peace.”

“Even Benedict XVI,” the prelate pointed out, “said this when he was in the Holy Land.”

“But the question is,” he continued, “will the Palestinian state that is born be able to last, will it have all the components of a state? That means having all its territories, its capital, the conditions of life. Therefore, not only a state but a ‘valid’ state, with all the conditions for life.”

Good outcome

For Bishop Shomali, however, a good outcome “would be the best factor for stopping the Christian exodus from the Holy Land.”

“In regard to the return of Christians,” he added, “everything depends on [the details of] the agreement because among the clauses imposed by Israel until now is the non-return of Palestinian refugees, those who do not have a Palestinian ID card, which means those who were here in 1967.”

“All those who left before 1967 have been up until now practically been prevented from returning by an Israeli blockade,” he explained. “Thus everything depends on the negotiations and on the good will of the Christians who are authorized to return, because many of them, doing well abroad, do not want to come back.

“Let us hope and pray that a certain number will agree to return in case they are authorized after the negotiations.”