JERUSALEM (Reuter) - Jerusalem's Jewish mayor, Ehud Olmert, rejected Tuesday the criticism of eight U.S. Christian leaders who urged the Clinton administration to press Israel to stop annexing Arab land in the holy city.
"There are many more Christian leaders in the United States who call (on) President Clinton to recognize Jerusalem as the sole capital of the state of Israel and the Jewish people," Olmert, of the right-wing Likud party, told Reuters.
In a statement Monday that angered U.S. Jewish groups, the Christian leaders, including the president of the National Council of Catholic Bishops, asked to meet Clinton and urged him to place the question of Jerusalem higher on his agenda.
"By and large the American public opinion understands that while we have to keep complete religious freedom in Jerusalem, as we do for Christians and Muslims and Jews alike, Jerusalem politically is a capital of one people.
"(It) has always been a capital of only one people, has never been a capital of any Muslim or Arab entity in all of its 3,000 years of history and it shouldn't become one now," he said, in a reference to the Jewish people.
The statement by the Christian leaders said that, in violation of international law, land was being taken from Palestinians and placed under Israeli control by annexation, expropriation and private purchase.
Jerusalem, a city holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians, was divided until the 1967 Middle East war, when Israel captured the eastern section from Jordan and annexed it.
Israel regards Jerusalem as its capital, a status not recognized by the international community. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as capital of a future state.
The Christian leaders did not acknowledge any special Jewish or Israeli role for Jerusalem, saying Israel's claim to sovereignty pre-empted genuine negotiations.
March 7, 1995
NEW YORK - Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) today described a proposal by eight Christian leaders that the future status of Jerusalem be moved up on the calendar of Middle East peace negotiation as a "well meaning" but "ill-conceived" proposal capable of seriously damaging Middle East peace negotiations.
The UAHC is the central body of Reform Judaism, representing 850 congregations in the United States and Canada with a membership of 1.3 million.
The UAHC statement follows:
"We are deeply distressed by the statement of eight Christian leaders that the final status of Jerusalem be moved `higher on the agenda' of the Middle East peace process.
"This ill-conceived statement appears to have been issued without regard to its potential for disrupting the progress of current peace negotiations.
In the peace agreement between the PLO and Israel, the Jerusalem question was deliberately relegated to the category of "hard issues" that would be discussed and resolved only after a proper framework had been laid through agreement on the so-called "softer" issues.
The PLO, recognizing its complexity and destructive potential, agreed that this issue should be taken up only at the end of negotiations. By seeking to substitute their judgment for that of the Palestinian leadership, the Christian leaders would derail the peace process by creating a climate of added tension and conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.
"Additionally, the statement is not properly balanced. It ignores the fundamental reality that the historic ties of Jews to their Holy City marks a relationship that goes back 3,000 years, millennia. In fact, Israel has recognized the right of access of Christians and Muslims to their holy places in Jerusalem and made these religious sites available to all faiths since 1967. On the other hand, while Jerusalem was under the control of Jordan, Jews were prevented from visiting their holy places, an action that violated the 1949 Armistice agreement between the newly-born state of Israel and the Arabs.
"The ill-timed proposal by the American Christian leaders may be a well-meaning attempt to facilitate the peace process in the Middle East, but in reality, it is a bombshell that should be defused before doing serious damage to the negotiations in that troubled region. We urge our government to reject the proposal as entirely inappropriate at this time."
CONTACT: Israel E. Levine of Richard Cohen Associates, 212-758-6969
CO: Union of American Hebrew Congregations
ST: District of Columbia
March 7, 1995
WASHINGTON - B'nai B'rith expressed its distress at the ill-conceived appeal of eight prominent U.S. church leaders asking President Clinton to put the question of Jerusalem "higher on its agenda" of the Middle East peace process, for accusing Israel of "creating facts" and for pursuing a one-sided approach towards Middle East peace.
"Their attempt to insert themselves in the active and ongoing peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians is itself an attempt to "create facts" which can only work to the detriment of the peace process," said Tommy P. Baer, international president of B'nai B'rith.
The Declaration of Principles signed between Israel and the PLO left the question of Jerusalem to the end of the negotiating process. "The church leaders' concern about a "derailing" of the process is thoroughly misplaced. To the contrary, moving Jerusalem toward the top of the agenda will "derail" the process because it will shatter trust in the integrity and sanctity of the Declaration of Principles, which both parties agreed to," Baer said. The church leaders also criticized the United States for "failing to recognize and support Palestinian rights and interests in Jerusalem."
"As facilitator of the peace process, the appropriate U.S. role is to act as honest broker and not to represent one side or the other. The Oslo Agreement does not envisage an imposed solution by an outside power; its virtue and very essence is that a solution is to be reached by direct negotiations between the parties themselves. Any solution that is imposed by the U.S. would violate both the spirit and letter of the Declaration of Principles," Baer said.
While the church leaders accuse Israel of planning for a "Greater Jerusalem," there is no mention of the PLO's refusal to drop their covenant calling for Israel's total destruction.
The following signed the statement to Clinton:
National Council of Catholic Bishops
American Friends Service Committee
Roman Catholic Conference of Major Superiors of Men's Institutes
Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of N. and S. America
The Episcopal Church
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of N. America
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
CONTACT: Robin Schwartz-Kreger of B'nai B'rith, 202-857-6536
CO: B'nai B'rith
ST: District of Columbia