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January 20, 2016
Ambassador Susan Rice
National Security Advisor
The White House
Washington, DC 20270
Dear Ambassador Rice:
With multiple crises brewing in the Middle East, sometimes the urgency of resolving the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict fades into the background. Having just returned from a solidarity visit to Israel, Palestine and Jordan, it was clear that the status quo is unsustainable. It is dangerous for both Israelis and Palestinians.
I have enclosed a statement issued recently by the bishops of the Holy Land Coordination, "You Are Not Forgotten." The bishops come from Europe, South Africa, Canada and the United States. They are united in declaring: "To those Israelis and Palestinians who seek peace, you are not forgotten. The right of Israel to live in security is clear, but the continuing occupation eats away at the soul of both occupier and occupied." As the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem told us, "[W]e have been swept by a wave of terror and an escalation of tension between Israelis and Palestinians."
The international community, with the active engagement of the United States, must make renewed efforts to achieve a peace agreement that provides security and recognition for Israel and a viable and independent state for Palestinians. As you are undoubtedly aware, the Holy See has recognized the State of Palestine, an action that came decades after recognizing the State of Israel. This aspirational action must now be followed by concrete action.
Once again, we want to bring attention to the dire situation in Gaza. The realities of isolation and desperation in Gaza compromise the dignity of the entire population and undermine the quest of Israelis for security.
Finally, I would again highlight the injustice being perpetrated in the Cremisan Valley. Bulldozers have begun to uproot ancient olive groves belonging to Christian Palestinians in the West Bank near Bethlehem. The route of the security barrier should not effectively confiscate Palestinian land, compromising the ministry of Christian institutions and the rights of Christian landowners. It if is to be built, it should be on internationally recognized Israeli land.
As Pope Francis has said on a number of occasions, we need to build bridges, not walls. I pray that the United States will help build a bridge to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. We cannot forget their plight.
Most Reverend Oscar Cantú
Bishop of Las Cruces
Chair, Committee on International Justice and Peace
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