Peace in the Middle East: The U.S. Bishops’ Statement

by Archbishop Roger M. Mahony

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On November 9, 1989, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops issued the statement Toward Peace in the Middle East: Perspectives, Principles and Hopes. This was the third time that we bishops of the United States made a formal statement addressing the challenge of peace in the Middle East.

In our document, we concentrated on two specific issues: Lebanon and the Israeli-Arab-Palestinian question. While other important issues exist in the Middle East, we focused on these because of their intrinsic urgency, their importance to Christians in the region and the challenge they pose for United States policy.

Regarding Lebanon, our statement seeks to identify the major causes of the present crisis there and to support a process of diplomatic initiatives and political negotiation which has two objectives. The first is to free Lebanon of all foreign forces; the second is to initiate the rebuilding of Lebanese political and economic institutions.

The goal is to preserve the unique heritage of democracy and religious pluralism which Lebanon has long represented in the Middle East, but to do so in the context that takes into account the tragic conflicts, outside interference and internal changes that have shaped the current crisis in Lebanon. We sought in the statement to express solidarity with all Lebanese and to share our specific support for the Church in Lebanon at this time of trial.

Regarding the Israeli-Arab-Palestinian conflict, we analyzed the conflict in terms of territory, sovereignty and security. These are political concepts, but we believe each idea has moral content. In the statement we identify a series of principles which can he used to define how the conflicting claims to territory, sovereignty and security can be adjudicated.

The statement’s basic method is to affirm certain objectives of each party – the Israelis and the Palestinians – as legitimate and necessary for their existence and well-being. Then we advocate a process of negotiation designed to relate and adjust these claims.

As we see it, each party to the conflict – Israel, the Arab states and the Palestinians – has a just claim on the goals of security, territory and sovereignty. But each must recognize certain limits on its claim.

Israel’s need for security must be met, but the implementation of that security must allow for Palestinian self-determination. Palestinians’ expressed need for sovereignty should be addressed, but the exercise of that sovereignty must be limited to address Israeli security concerns.

The statement endorses a process of serious negotiations among the parties in the region with the help of key outside parties – like the United States – to adjudicate and reconcile the valid but at times conflicting needs, interests and rights of the Israelis, Arab States and Palestinians.

This document is the result of a rather unusual process. Previous statements of the Bishops’ Conference on the Middle East and Lebanon did not involve extensive consultation. In this case, the committee of bishops charged with the drafting of this document felt that so much was at stake in the Middle East and in our relationships with the church in the region and other deeply concerned communities that they needed to consult widely and visit the region personally.

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Tags: Lebanon CNEWA Middle East Israel Religious Differences