Mideast peace process in 2008: Breakthrough or bust?

The year of 2008 could be an important one for brokering a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine, said Stephen Colecchi, director of International Justice and Peace for the USCCB at the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington.

The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is one of two international policy priorities for which participants in the gathering will lobby their Congress people. The bishops have long advocated a two-state solution that requires both sides to coexist peacefully.

Colecchi, who visited the Holy Land with Cardinal Francis George, president of the bishops’ conference in January, said that there is hope on the ground because of recent United States’ involvement in international peace negotiations.

In terms of these negotiations, he said, “Congress can make it or break it.” The Bishops’ are lobbying Congress people on three levels: to support the administration in holding both parties accountable, to support funding requested by the president that would allow Palestinians to build institutions that will create a strong state, and to “do no harm.”

More specifically, the bishops are asking senators to cosponsor a Senate resolution that supports a two-state solution.

The funding is $295 million to strengthen the Palestinian state, which Colecchi emphasized, needs to require accountability, but not to a level that it ties up funds so they never reach Palestine.

By “do no harm,” Colecchi explained that Congress needs to refrain from passing resolutions that can be viewed as one-sided, undermining the effort to bring all sides to the table.

The conflict likely won’t get solved in 2008, though, and requires a long-term approach.

“We really have to strengthen the middle on this issue,” Colecchi said of the long run.

The Catholic bishops are part of an interfaith effort of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian (including the National Association on Evangelicals) leaders that advocating for a two-state resolution. More U.S. citizens, Colecchi said, need to understand both the Israeli and Palestinian perspectives and focus on peace first rather than lobbying for one side.—Megan Sweas

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