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The Churches oppose Israel’s “unilateral annexation” of parts of the West Bank

It’s just a matter of hours: Israel's announced annexation of parts of the West Bank where more than 130 settlements - deemed illegal by the international community - have been built, is scheduled to begin on 1 July. Strong reactions from local and international Churches for which annexation risks dealing a final blow to the largely endorsed “Two Peoples, Two States" solution

(Foto: AFP/SIR)

It’s just a matter of hours: Israel’s announced annexation of parts of the West Bank where more than 130 settlements, deemed illegal by the international community, have been built, is supposed to begin on July 1st. It was announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Bibi Netanyahu and agreed, when forming the new government, with his former opponent, now ally, Binyamin Benny Gantz. In fact, the annexation plan is included in the so-called ‘government agreement’ stipulated by the two main coalition parties, Netanyahu’s Likud and the Blue and White centrist party led by former army chief Benny Gantz. The latter is due to replace “Bibi” himself at the helm of the Government at the end of 2021. A specific bill needs to be promulgated by the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) for the annexation to be confirmed. If this were to happen, July 1st could become a historic date in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, bound to deal a final blow to the “Two Peoples, Two States” solution, supported by the international community, notably by the Holy See.  The alternative could be the suspension of the measure or a ‘symbolic’ annexation, restricted to the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, which in fact Israel already considers part of its territory.

The reaction of the local Churches. The annexation plan was met with strong condemnation by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdallah II of Jordan, all 22 countries of the League and by the majority of European countries and international community. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, said the Israeli plan is “illegal.”

“We can no longer speak honestly and concretely about the ‘Two People Two States’ solution, that is proving increasingly challenging in technical terms. If the annexation should take place, the situation will be irreversible.”

denounced Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, during a live broadcast. For the archbishop “to speak of peace, of negotiations, within both the Palestinian and Israeli society, is not very realistic.” The Patriarchs and heads of the Churches of the Holy Land, including Pizzaballa himself, the Custos of the Holy Land, Father Francesco Patton and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilus III, share the same view.

In a joint statement, religious leaders deplore “this plan of unilateral annexation, call on the State of Israel to abstain” and exhort the Quartet ” US, EU, UN and Russia to respond to this plan with a gradual and time-bound peace initiative, in line with international law and relevant UN resolutions, to ensure a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in this part of the world, considered holy by the three Abrahamic faiths”. Equally significant is the request to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to “resolve its internal disputes -as well as any conflicts with other factions that are not under its umbrella-in order to present a unified front dedicated to achieving peace and the building of a viable State that is founded upon pluralism and democratic values.” Concern was voiced also from Gaza, where the small local Christian community, ( some 1,000 faithful including 117 Catholics, ed.’s note), fears the outbreak of a new conflict. “Here in the Strip – Father Gabriel Romanelli, the parish priest, told SIR – the population has grown used to conflict and violence and perhaps also for this reason they are inclined to think that annexation is yet another excuse to trigger a new war that nobody wants here.”

Reactions of international Churches. Pax Christi International also spoke words of condemnation, reaffirming its opposition to the Israeli plan in a statement, and “recognizing East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights as illegally annexed under international law. We continue to condemn Israel’s 53-year occupation of the West Bank and its 13-year blockade of Gaza. We stand in steadfast solidarity with our Palestinian sisters and brothers whose freedom, dignity and human rights are threatened by this current proposal and Israel’s previous actions.” The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols wrote to both the Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, voicing their opposition to the planned annexation of large areas of the West Bank by the Israeli government. Catholic and Anglican Bishops from the Holy Land Coordination group, represented by the Catholic Bishop of Clifton, Rev Declan Lang and the Anglican Bishop of Southwark, Rev Christopher Chessun, reiterated that West Bank annexation “would bring about the loss of any remaining hope for the success of the peace process. Annexation would only bring more conflict, suffering and division.” Concern was equally expressed by the World Council of Churches, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, ACT Alliance and Lutheran World Federation. “Annexation of such territories – they wrote in a statement – is in direct violation of international law and goes against several international agreements UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions, the 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. We urgently call on the international community to take immediate action.”

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