It is too simple to say that too much blood has been shed in the Middle East. Everyone knows that and everyone bemoans it. As we pray for all who have died, be they Israeli or Palestinian, in these recent months and long before, we must also check our own reactions, examine our own attitudes to be sure that we are always men and women of peace, of reconciliation, of hope based on a commitment to truth, equity and justice for all peoples of the Middle East. During our Pilgrimage of Prayer for Peace in September, we, 18 U S bishops, declared that we are committed to three points: prayer is powerful; peace is possible; and a two state solution must be the goal. I remain committed to that as do my brother bishops.
Yet I would be remiss if I did not express publicly what I wrote yesterday to the Israeli Consul in New York and to personal friends in Israel. The attack on the Synagogue and the killing of four rabbis while they were at prayer is as heinous as one could imagine. That Hamas proclaimed it as a good and passed out sweets to children on the devastated streets of Gaza is particularly barbaric.
No group is without blame in this sad and tragic story. However all too often a basic truth has been overlooked, ignored or even denied. Only two Arab states have made peace with Israel: Egypt and Jordan. Israel was established through the United Nations in 1948 and has built a nation from scratch, a thriving nation surrounded by states that declare their enmity toward a country that is 66 years old. This ongoing conflict can be easily resolved and legitimate differences in the region be addressed if the other Arab states and the Palestinian Authority would recognize Israel’s right to exist.
Israel does not deny the right of Arab countries to exist. If the state of war or the threat of impending destruction of Israel by her neighbors were to disappear, then the issue of Palestinian sovereignty could and would be resolved as well. In addition, neighboring countries in the Middle East would be able to receive from Israel the help they could use to develop their own social and economic infrastructures and become countries whose own productivity would make them stable and give their own citizens means for growth and stability for themselves and their neighbors.
Many countries in Africa and Asia have become sovereign nations in the 1950s and 1960s, all after Israel. Why are they legitimate and Israel is not? If the United Nations and all national and world leaders called for universal recognition of Israel, I believe that the success of such an initiative would set a foundation that would place all the other issues in a context favorable for swift and positive resolution.