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U.S. Church Leaders, Citing Risks, Fault President Bush
for Concessions to Israel's Prime Minister Sharon

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 15, 2004 -- (CMEP) U.S. church leaders today expressed disappointment and alarm at yesterday’s remarks by President Bush that seemingly reversed 35 years of longstanding U.S. policy on Israeli and Palestinian negotiations for peace.

Speaking through Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), a coalition of 19 national Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox church offices, including the National Council of Churches USA, the leaders criticized President Bush’s unilateral prejudging of negotiations by his endorsement of Israel’s large Jewish settlements in the West Bank and of Israel’s wish to prevent any Palestinian refugees from ever being resettled within Israel.

Corinne Whitlatch, executive director of the coalition, stated, “We had hoped that the Gaza withdrawal could be a first forward step toward peace.” Whitlatch continued, “Instead, President Bush has betrayed decades of diplomatic advances, undercut the future of the Road Map peace plan and ignored its cosponsors - the U.N., the European Union and the Russian Federation. His repeated assurance that he wants a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel is losing credibility. The President’s blatant disregard for Palestinian and Arab participation and sentiment places a future peace and our own security as risk.”

“The President’s decision,” said Father Drew Christiansen, S.J., a member of CMEP’s Leadership Council and an editor of the Jesuit magazine America, “makes U.S. policy hostage to Prime Minister Sharon’s expansionist goals. Legitimating West Bank settlements is a recipe for protracted conflict which will continue to impact adversely the dwindling Christian presence in the Holy Land.”

Fr. Christiansen asked the President to consider the consequences of his decision on Christians in the region, saying, “Mr. Sharon has talked about his unilateral initiative delaying negotiations for another generation. But this is a generation in which, under the pressure of endless conflict, the endangered indigenous Christian population in the Holy Land could well disappear. I doubt this is an outcome that President Bush would like to see, but it is very likely one that he is setting in motion.”

Other church leaders questioned whether the “war on terrorism” itself may have blinded President Bush to the possible outcomes of his actions on Israelis and Palestinians.

Jim Winkler, General Secretary of the United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society, observed, “President Bush responded yesterday to a reporter that ‘the best way to achieve peace is to fight terror.’ I disagree. The way toward peace is to work for a just resolution of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. That will lead to the end of the terror of suicide bombers and targeted assassinations.

Winkler continued, “Instead of telling Prime Minister Sharon that it’s ok now to violate international law and United Nations resolutions, President Bush should be pressuring both sides to stem the violence and start talking again. President Bush has effectively told the world that what Israel has taken by force from the Palestinians is now acceptable. This is a road map to war."

Whitlatch reiterated the disappointment of the national church organizations in yesterday’s developments. “The President’s decision, contrary to the public, long-standing positions of many U.S. Protestant and Orthodox churches and of the Catholic Church, is de facto a rejection of international law. He has clearly shown that the U.S. is not as concerned for the rights of the Palestinian people as he is for the political goals of Prime Minister Sharon. How unfortunate for all the people of the Middle East!”

-end-

CMEP MEDIA CONTACT: Jim Wetekam, (202) 543-4150, jim@cmep.org

NCC MEDIA CONTACT: Carol Fouke, (212) 870-2252; cfouke@ncccusa.org

Churches for Middle East Peace is a Washington-based program of the Alliance of Baptists, American Friends Service Committee, Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese, Catholic Conference of Major Superiors of Men’s Institutes, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Church of the Brethren, Church World Service, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Franciscan Mission Service, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Maryknoll Missioners, Mennonite Central Committee, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church. For further information, see www.cmep.org


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