Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East questions the failure of Churches for Middle East Peace ("CMEP") to discuss Israel's 10-month freeze on West Bank settlement construction in its November 30, 2009 Policy Newsletter.
CMEP describes itself as a "coalition of 22 Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant national church bodies and organizations. . . . [which] works in support of U.S. policies that are conducive to Israeli-Arab peacemaking."
On November 25, 2009, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel would impose a 10-month freeze on construction in West Bank settlements in an attempt to restart peace talks. Palestinian leadership, however, rejected the proposal and refused to restart negotiations because the freeze does not include East Jerusalem. Apart from an unclear and dismissive reference to "Israeli's [sic] offer of "restraint" on settlement activity . . ." CMEP failed to mention this in its recent Newsletter.
"Even if CMEP does not think the Israeli gesture was sufficient, surely it merits discussion in a newsletter devoted to peace in Israel and Palestine," notes Rev. Thomas Prinz, pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Leesburg, Virginia.
In the Newsletter, CMEP bemoaned the fact that "momentum has been lost in peace efforts" and listed various options for U.S. action including a suggestion of possible support for unilateral action on the part of the Palestinians.
"The CMEP Newsletter also complained about settlement activity that went on during the Oslo years. But Israel's settlement activity, as ill-conceived and unhelpful to the peace process as it was, did not cause the final failure of Oslo, says Fr. James Loughran, S.A., Director of the Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute. "Ultimately Oslo failed because Palestinian leadership walked out of negotiations at Camp David and later refused to accept the Clinton parameters."
"Concessions from one side in any dispute are generally made at the negotiating table, not prior to getting there," notes Rev. Dr. Bruce Chilton, Bernard Iddings Bell Professor of Religion at Bard College in Annandale, New York. "So no matter how much further one thinks Israel needs to move on the issue of settlements, this latest action is encouraging and should have been used to bring the parties back to peace talks. Isn't that the goal? Why would a church organization dedicated to Middle East peace merely ignore this opportunity?"
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