Two senior bishops, one Anglican and one Catholic, have written a public letter to Foreign Secretary William Hague urging fresh thinking about Israel-Palestine.
The Rt Rev Michael Langrish, Bishop of Exeter and the Church of England's lead bishop on international affairs, and the Rt Rev Declan Lang, Bishop of Clifton and chair of the department for International affairs for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, describe the UK government’s recent decision to abstain from supporting the Palestinian bid for non-member observer state status at the United Nations as "regrettable".
They write: "the Palestinian bid to upgrade its status at the UN represented a legitimate and creative non-violent attempt at breaking the current political impasse. As such, it deserved wide support."
The letter, in full, reads as follows:
To: Rt Hon William Hague MP
First Secretary of State and
Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs,
Foreign & Commonwealth Office?
King Charles Street
Dear Foreign Secretary
The UK Government’s regrettable decision to abstain from supporting the Palestinian bid for non-member observer state status puts into stark relief the broader problems facing the peoples of the Holy Land and the stalled political process that is supposed to bring them peace, an issue which remains of fundamental importance to the region whatever the new pressures of the ‘Arab Spring’.
Indeed supporting those seeking dignity and democracy in the Arab world inevitably re-focuses attention on the failure to resolve the Palestinian issue. The traditional structure of the long sought-after resolution of that issue has long been regarded as the two state solution, as the only way to meet the national aspirations of the two peoples involved. The viability of that approach is now coming under increasing pressure, not least from relentless settlement building in the occupied territories which will soon render a contiguous Palestinian state unviable. That would be a tragedy for Palestinians and Israelis alike, since whatever the difficulties of establishing two states there do not seem to be any valid alternatives other than continuing conflict. Against this background the Palestinian bid to upgrade its status at the UN represented a legitimate and creative non-violent attempt at breaking the current political impasse. As such, it deserved wide support.
This conflict has gone on too long, and its continuing human cost is clear, not only in the recent sad loss of life on both sides during the recent Gaza-related violence, but in terms of the insidious burden the current situation places upon both occupied and occupier, and in the loss of potential, especially amongst young people. These are the poisoned fruits of a political stalemate. Merely seeking to manage this frustrating stalemate and to contain the inevitable fallout is no longer a viable strategy and will if persisted with, only result in additional human suffering.
What can be done? The resource of faith, above all the common monotheistic ethic of reverence for life, does provide hope and religious leaders from all communities are working to build bridges of understanding. That slow, difficult work deserves greater support and recognition, not least from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Such efforts can serve as a way of refocusing attention back to the key struggle – the need to respect the civil, religious and political rights of all those - Jew, Christian, Muslim, Arab and Israeli - caught in the conflict.
The strong have a particular obligation and Israelis needs to be true to their ethical tradition. But all parties must refocus on respecting the sanctity of the human person, and the inalienable rights that flow from that, if peace is ever to be possible.
+ Rt Rev Michael Langrish, Bishop of Exeter and the Church of England's lead bishop on international affairs
+ Rt Rev Declan Lang, Bishop of Clifton and chair of the department for International affairs for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales
* 'The Holy Land: a vision rather than a nightmare': a response to the bishops' letter by Middle East expert and Ekklesia associate Dr Harry Hagopian. http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17522