Recently, I emailed questions to Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali of Jerusalem, asking him to share his firsthand insights regarding the many injustices and the violent environment in the land of the Prince of Peace. He graciously sent back a recorded audio response, upon which this column is based.
Shomali said one of the most pressing problems facing Palestinians is Israeli-imposed restrictions on movement. For example, he said, Palestinians living in Bethlehem or Ramallah need to obtain a permit to go just 6 miles to Jerusalem. And permits are only given during principle feasts.
He said the ongoing illegal building of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land in the occupied territories is an extremely serious roadblock to a peaceful solution.
To correct these and other injustices, Israel needs to participate in good-faith negotiations toward the two-state solution: the establishment of an independent viable Palestinian nation coexisting peacefully with a fully recognized state of Israel.
He emphasized that the Holy See continues to firmly support the two-state solution.
"Negotiations could be successful if there is goodwill. Some settlements can be given to Palestinians and Israelis can keep some of the settlements close to Israel. Other land exchange agreements can be reached as well," said Shomali.
"But unconditional U.S. support for Israel negatively affects the situation," he said.
A two-state solution could be agreed upon by the U.N. Security Council, but the U.S. continues to block a U.N. binding resolution that would set a timetable for the establishment of the nation of Palestine, said Shomali.
He added, "The U.S. continues to keep telling Palestinians that statehood should come through negotiations. But negotiations with Israel continually fail. We then seek statehood through the U.N. Security Council, and America blocks our way. We go back to negotiations with Israel and they fail again."
Shomali lamented, "We live in a vicious circle." And to get out of this circle, the American government should not veto or otherwise block a U.N.-approved resolution establishing a viably independent Palestine. In terms of justice and peace, the U.S. should be impartial.
Shomali stressed the paramount importance of prayer. But he added that prayers alone are not enough; there must also be a serious effort to reach a peace accord.
He praised the generosity of Catholics in the U.S. and throughout the world in assisting parishes, schools and many humanitarian projects in the Holy Land. But so much more help is desperately needed, he added.
The Catholic Near East Welfare Association has on its website information about providing aid to Palestine.
The U.S. gives Israel approximately $3 billion each year -- far more than it gives any other nation. The American government has the ability to exert tremendous pressure upon the Israeli government to negotiate in good faith a fair and just two-state solution. But, sadly, it does not have the political courage and moral integrity to do so.
Therefore, it is up to us to pressure the administration to do the right thing.
Please contact President Barack Obama, urging him to leave a jewel in his presidential legacy by using every diplomatic tool at his disposal to set the stage for all Arab nations to recognize Israel's right to exist, and for Israel to fully cooperate in the establishment of a totally independent and viable Palestinian nation.
[Tony Magliano, an internationally syndicated columnist on peace and justice issues, is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings about Catholic social teaching. He can be reached at email@example.com.]
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