The chair of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, New Mexico, encouraged Rex Tillerson to work for peace between Israel and Palestine in a February 2 letter congratulating him on his confirmation as Secretary of State.
In the letter,
Cantú reminded the new secretary of the opposition on the part of U.S.
and international Catholic bishops to the expansion of Israeli
settlements and the confiscation of Palestinian lands.
Cantú also begged the secretary not to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“Settlement expansion on occupied Palestinian lands undermines a
two-state solution, destroying the homes and the livelihoods of
Palestinians as well as the long-term security and future of Israelis,”
the bishop wrote quoting a joint communiqué by bishops from Europe,
Canada, South Africa and the United States.
Though it’s hard to suggest any cause-and-effect, Trump appeared to
moderate his campaign rhetoric the same day he received Cantú’s letter,
warning Israel that constructing new settlements “may not be helpful” to
Middle East peace efforts.
In a statement Thursday, the White House said, “While we don’t
believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the
construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements
beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that
The White House said the administration “has not taken an official
position on settlement activity” and the president would discuss the
issue with Netanyahu when he travels to Washington later this month.
The two leaders are scheduled to meet at the White House on February 15.
The UN Security Council passed a resolution in December that demanded
a halt to unlawful settlement activity by Israel in territories
occupied by Palestine. Notably, the United States - which has veto power
within the organ and a long-standing tradition of supporting Israel -
abstained during the vote.
The Obama administration used its final breaths to lift its
diplomatic shield over Israel and the former Secretary of State, John
Kerry, gave a powerful speech in Washington urging the country to move
toward a two-state solution.
As tensions rose over the settlement and the U.S.’s newfound
impartiality, then President-elect Donald Trump furiously tweeted: “We
cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and
disrespect. They used to have a great friend in the U.S., but not
Trump then wrote in a following tweet that “the beginning of the end
was the horrible Iran deal, and now this (U.N.)! Stay strong Israel,
January 20th is fast approaching!” causing concern in some quarters and
anticipation in others as to what his future position would be in
regards to Israel and Palestine.
During most of his campaign Trump also promised to move the U.S.
embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move that most observers say would
cause deep upset and add fuel to an already heated situation.
Cantú warned the Secretary of State that “moving the embassy to
Jerusalem would erode the U.S. commitment to a two-state solution, and
is a threat to pursuing peace and ending conflict. Its impact would
incite and destabilize the area, compromising U.S. security.”
The bishop, who was recently part of a solidarity visit to Israel and
Palestine, reminded Tillerson of Pope Francis’s insistence that “the
two-state solution must become a reality and not merely a dream.”
Shortly before Trump’s inauguration the pope made a strong statement
by meeting with the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, who officially
opened the Palestinian embassy in Vatican City. After the meeting Abbas
told the press that moving the U.S. embassy “will not help peace and we
hope it does not happen.”
The Palestinian president reiterated his position in an interview with Le Figaro
where he stated that Trump’s plan would not only “strip the United
States of all its legitimacy to play a role in resolving the conflict,
but it would reduce to nothing a two-state solution.”
Cantú concluded his letter by recalling the U.S.’s historic role in
providing leadership and support to the peace process. “We continue to
profess hope for a diplomatic solution that respects the human dignity
for both Israelis and Palestinians and advances justice and peace for
all,” the bishop wrote.
The year 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the occupation
of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, which led to “egregious
injustices and random acts of violence,” and Cantú insisted that
“resolving the long-standing conflict will require arduous work.”
Still, the bishop added, with critical and continued efforts there
may be a chance to move closer to putting an end to the decades long
occupation and “build a brighter future for both peoples.”
The Vatican has long been on record as favoring a two-state solution
to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including sovereignty for the
Palestinians and security guarantees for the Israels, as well as
international protection for holy sites in Jerusalem.