Peace, mutual equality, and respect must be the foundation of progress in Israeli-Palestinian relations, despite continued setbacks, the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land said this week.
Continuing difficulties in Palestine and Israel have caused many people to question “whether international diplomacy and the peace process were ever actually based on justice and good will,” the ordinaries said in a May 20 message.
“Many in Palestine and in Israel feel that since the launch of the peace process, their lives have become more and more unbearable,” the ordinaries said. “Many have left, many more consider leaving and some are resorting to violence. Some die quietly and others are losing faith and hope.”
The ordinaries represent a diverse group of Middle East Christians in communion with Rome. Their message was signed by current and past patriarchs, archbishops and bishops, exarchs, men and women religious, and other leaders, from the Maronite Catholic Church, the Melkite Catholic Church, the Syrian Catholic Church, the Armenian Catholic Church, the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.
While Israel’s population is predominantly Jewish, about 20 percent of the country’s 8.5 million people are Arab. About two percent are Christians, though their numbers have sharply declined after decades of emigration.
The Palestinian population is largely split geographically and politically between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Palestinian militants, largely based in Gaza, have engaged in military attacks on Israelis, and the Israeli military has also conducted military action.
Security borders have impaired Palestinians’ ability to work and travel, including travel to Muslim and Christian holy places, while Jewish settlements in the West Bank are a continuing source of tension.
For the ordinaries of the Holy Land, it is time for Churches and spiritual leaders “to point to another way, to insist that all, Israelis and Palestinians, are brothers and sisters in humanity.”
“The Churches insist that we can love one another and live together in mutual respect and equality, equal in rights and duties, in this same land,” they said. “This is not simply a dream but the powerful basis of a vision that inspired our ancestors, the prophets.”
More moderate Palestinian groups, based in the West Bank, have hoped to secure East Jerusalem as the recognized capital of a Palestinian state under a negotiated two-state solution. Gaza has been ruled by the Islamist political party Hamas since 2007. Israel and Egypt have conducted an economic blockade of the Gaza Strip, restricting the flow of persons and goods in an effort to limit rocket attacks on Israel launched from the territory. The blockade has driven up unemployment and harmed supplies of electric power and drinking water.
Under the Trump administration, the United States has moved its embassy to Jerusalem and ended vital humanitarian aid to the West Bank and to Gaza, including aid to hospitals in East Jerusalem. It has recognized the Golan Heights, long contested with Syria, as Israeli territory.
Recent Israeli elections returned to power a right-wing coalition headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which tends to take a hardline attitude on Palestinian issues.
The Catholic ordinaries lamented the failure to make progress.
“The recent developments in the Palestine-Israel context, the ongoing loss of lives, the continuing evaporation of hope for a durable solution, and the failure of the international community to insist on the application of international law to save the peoples of this land from more struggle and despair, have reached a point where we witness more extremism and discrimination,” they said. “Even those who once presented themselves as guardians of democracy and promoters of peace, have become power-brokers and partisan participants in the conflict.”
In recent decades, the Catholic leaders said, “we were promised peace and reconciliation but received more hatred and oppression, corruption and demagoguery.”
While a two-state solution has long been presented as the solution to the conflict and the fulfillment of commitments to the Palestinian people, the Catholic leaders voiced doubts.
“The proposal for a two-state solution has gone nowhere and is repeated to no avail,” they said. “In fact, all talk of political solution seems empty rhetoric in the present situation.”
“Therefore, we promote a vision according to which everyone in this Holy Land has full equality, the equality befitting all men and women created equal in God’s own image and likeness. We believe that equality, whatever political solutions might be adopted, is a fundamental condition for a just and lasting peace.”
The only possible peace must be based on “dignity, mutual respect and equality as human beings,” they insisted. Any resolution “must be based on the common good of all who live in this land without distinction.”
“We call on Christians in Palestine-Israel to join their voices with Jews, Muslims, Druze and all others, who share this vision of a society based on equality and the common good and invite all to build bridges of mutual respect and love.”
“We have lived together in this land in the past, why should we not live together in the future too?” they asked.
The Holy See has long supported a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and on a diplomatic level recognizes and refers to both “the State of Israel” and “the State of Palestine.”
According to the 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords, the final status of Jerusalem is to be discussed in the late stages of peace talks. Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognized by the international community.