altCHICAGO (ELCA) – The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), commended the Obama administration for urging the Israeli government to “reverse its recent declaration as ‘state land’ the estimated 988 acres in the Gush Etzion Jewish settlement bloc in the occupied West Bank.”

As a denomination that “calls for a cessation of all settlement activities and withdrawal from settlements on Palestinian territory to the 1967 boundaries,” Eaton expressed hope that the administration “will continue to pursue this reversal.”

In her Oct. 22 letter to the U.S. president, Eaton noted that she shares the administration’s concern regarding the Israeli government’s “reportedly recent move to advance the settlement planning process in the sensitive area of Givat Hamatos in East Jerusalem.” She said the plan for the new neighborhood “would cut the territorial continuity between the Palestinian neighborhoods in South Jerusalem and the future Palestinian state.”

Eaton also mentioned the recent occupation of six residential buildings in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem. This occupation “is a provocative act that only serves to escalate tensions at a moment when those tensions have been high,” Eaton wrote. “This new occupation, the largest since 1991, could expand the settler presence by about 35 percent from the number of settlers currently in the area.”

 “It is deeply distressing to us that these kinds of action, which seek to create new ‘facts on the ground,’ continue unabated,” Eaton wrote. “Along with Jewish organizations like Peace Now and B’Tselem, we fully agree with your administration that such actions are counter-productive to achieving a comprehensive and sustainable peace based upon a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, where international human rights and humanitarian law are respected and upheld. … such actions reinforce despondency among the Palestinian people, limiting optimism that a political solution will be found.”

Eaton urged Obama to call all involved in the conflict to refrain from violent or provocative actions that “could lead to more casualties and further exacerbate the existing barriers toward a return to negotiations and a just final status agreement that results in two viable, secure states living side-by-side in peace.”

Grounded in hope, “we pray that the current truce, following the recent war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, will hold so that hope might begin to be restored,” the ELCA presiding bishop wrote, adding that it is imperative that, with the help of the international community, both Palestinians and Israeli leaders return to negotiations to “identify and constructively address the underlying causes of continued tension, so that God’s peace and justice will prevail.”