Washington, DC , November 10, 2011
Leaders of Christian Churches met with Dennis Ross at the White House on November 8 to discuss U.S. policies toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They expressed concern for both Israelis and Palestinians who live within the daily reality of the conflict, and reaffirmed their support for a resolution to the conflict through a two-state solution. They asked that the United States be more forceful in opposing new Israeli settlement construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank that threatens the possibility of a viable future Palestinian state. The Christian leaders asked the Administration to declare its support for a shared Jerusalem. They expressed concern that Christian life is disrupted by travel restrictions on Palestinians between Bethlehem in the West Bank and Jerusalem and by unpredictable administration of visas and residency permits for clergy. They expressed the hope for a high-level Administration visit to the region soon that would include meetings with Christian leaders, especially in Bethlehem.
The Church leaders met in the White House November 8 with Dennis Ross, Special Assistant to U.S. President Barack Obama, and Catherine Powell, Director for Human Rights, Office of Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights in the National Security Council, to discuss United States policies toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and problems facing Christians in the Holy Land.
The religious leaders present at the meeting included Mark S. Hanson, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church; Denis James Madden, Auxiliary Bishop of Baltimore and Chairman-elect of the Committee for Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Neil Irons, Executive Secretary of the Methodist Council of Bishops; and Sara Lisherness, Director of Compassion, Peace and Justice for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The meeting was arranged by Churches for Middle East Peace, and Executive Director Warren Clark and several CMEP board members also attended.
The church leaders said they are disappointed with developments since they met at the White House last year, and expressed support for the vision of peace presented in President Obama’s May 2011 speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They expressed concern for both Israelis and Palestinians who live within the daily reality of the conflict, and reaffirmed their support for a resolution to the conflict through a two-state solution.
The position of the Palestinian Christian community is precarious. There are constant problems of obtaining visas for clergy who must travel outside Jerusalem and the West Bank. Restriction on movement between Bethlehem and Jerusalem is a problem that undermines Christian life. Church leaders are humiliated at check points. If Mary and Joseph were traveling to Bethlehem today they would be blocked by the separation barrier.
The effect of planned Israeli settlement construction will be to further isolate Palestinian areas from Jerusalem and make the stated goal of U.S. and Israeli policy — the two-state solution — even more difficult to achieve. The leaders expressed the hope therefore that the United States would be more forceful in its opposition to the rapid expansion of Israeli settlements that threatens to preclude the two-state solution and publicly express support for the principle of a shared Jerusalem. They asked for a high-level Administration visit to the region, including meeting with Christian leaders, especially in Bethlehem.
The religious leaders particularly urged that the United States do everything possible to ensure that no unilateral actions in and around East Jerusalem foreclose the possibility of Jerusalem as a shared city, serving as the capital of both Israel and the Palestinian state. They expressed their view that this was a serious danger in the current hiatus in negotiations, and that there could be no viable two-state solution without Jerusalem as the capital of both states.
They also expressed concern about the holds placed by the U.S. Congress on funding for the Palestinian Authority (PA) and for humanitarian activities benefitting Palestinians, as well as the suspension of tax payments to the PA by the Government of Israel. These actions could undermine improvements in security that have benefited both Israelis and Palestinians and the PA’s ability to build capacity for a future state. They expressed appreciation for Administration efforts to have the funds released.