On Feb. 2, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) issued a statement calling on the United States to not stand in the way of the resolution submitted by Lebanon to the United Nations Security Council seeking immediate resumption of peace talks between Israel and Palestine and a halt to settlement construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

CMEP — a coalition of 24 national church communions and faith-based organizations advocating for robust U.S. government policies to help end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — includes the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). General Assembly Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons was one of the signatories of the statement.

“We are profoundly troubled by the continued stagnation of the Middle East peace process and believe that the U.S. administration should use consideration of this resolution to re-engage all parties to take bold and substantive steps toward a just and secure peace agreement,” said CMEP executive director Warren Clark.

The statement and U.N. resolution come amid considerable turmoil throughout the Arab world as  pro-democracy movements in Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan and Yemen are taking to the streets.

“The current upheaval in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East presents an important opportunity for the United States to refocus its diplomacy and make comprehensive proposals for conflict reduction and reconciliation in the region, starting with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Clark said. “By drawing on established human rights and international law, consideration of the pending UN Security Council resolution on halting Israel’s expansion into Palestinian Territories can be an important first step in reigniting diplomacy and moving the two sides toward mutual agreement.”     

The resolution addresses the controversial issue of settlement building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, using terms the U.S., CMEP and the PC(USA) have historically used: that they are illegal, an obstacle to peace and not legitimate.

The full text of the CMEP statement:

Statement from Churches for Middle East Peace on Proposed UN Security Council Resolution on the Middle East

Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), a coalition of 24 national church communions and faith-based organizations advocating for robust U.S. government policies to help end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is deeply concerned with the lack of progress in negotiations for a comprehensive peace. Brief direct talks were suspended last September. U.S. proposals intended to reignite direct negotiations failed to bring the parties back to the table.

A United Nations Security Council resolution calling on Israel to stop illegal construction of settlements in the territories over which it gained control in 1967, including East Jerusalem, has been submitted for Security Council consideration and is being discussed by the Middle East Quartet (U.S., UN, EU and Russia) this week. The language of this resolution reflects language that the United States has historically used to describe settlement construction activity: illegal, an obstacle to peace, and not legitimate.

CMEP calls on the Obama Administration not to stand in the way of this resolution in a Security Council vote. Furthermore, in the context of the resolution’s consideration, CMEP urges the U.S. government to take this opportunity to spur both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to take decisive new steps toward a comprehensive peace agreement.

With new tensions and transformations rapidly emerging in the Middle East, regional stability and security require a comprehensive peace agreement in the near future. In addition to believing the current situation to be politically unsustainable, CMEP continues to be deeply concerned about the impact of the existing stalemate on people’s daily lives. The absence of any progress toward a resolution compounds the humanitarian situation on the ground, stranding many Palestinians in a state of perpetual food insecurity and leaving most without access to adequate water resources.

Palestinians deserve self-determination and Israelis deserve the security of a comprehensive peace and recognition by their neighbors. The outlook for an agreement is not hopeless. Recent reports confirm that in 2008 both sides made significant progress in defining their positions on important final status issues, including security, borders, refugees, and Jerusalem. Yet little progress has been made since then. The United States must send a robust message in word and deed to both parties that delay is not an option and that new substantial steps toward a comprehensive agreement are needed immediately.

“Blessed are the peacemakers” is a call from Jesus that is today most timely and urgent. Churches for Middle East Peace offers its prayers and active support to all who are willing to take bold steps to help bring about a comprehensive peace among Israelis and Palestinians.