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Catholic bishops endorse two-state solution to Mideast conflict

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Bishops are pushing the U.N. to work for a two-state solution
  • Pope first endorsed such an agreement during last year's Mideast tour
  • Settlement construction has threatened progress in peace talks

(CNN) -- Roman Catholic bishops for the Middle East concluded a two-week conference with a call for the international community, especially the United Nations, to work "to put an end to the occupation" of Palestinian territories.

"The Palestinian people will thus have an independent and sovereign homeland where they can live with dignity and security," the group said in a statement Saturday at the end of a meeting headed by Pope Benedict XVI. "The State of Israel will be able to enjoy peace and security within their internationally recognized borders.

"The Holy City of Jerusalem will be able to acquire its proper status, which respects its particular character, its holiness and the religious patrimony of the three religions: Jewish, Christian and Muslim. We hope that the two-state-solution might become a reality and not a dream only."

The pope first publicly endorsed a two-state solution to the Middle East crisis during a visit to the region in May 2009. At the time, he assured Palestinians of the Vatican's support of a sovereign Palestinian homeland. It was a concept that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resisted.

More recently, the issue of settlement construction has threatened to scuttle the reactivated and now stalled peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

The Palestinians demanded a continuation of an Israeli settlement freeze in order to continue with the talks, and the United States has urged Israel to stop settlement activity. But the Israeli government has not continued the freeze which ended late last month.

Construction has started for about 600 new housing units in the West Bank since the end of the moratorium, the group Peace Now said Thursday.

Yariv Oppenheimer, the group's director, said the Israeli peace organization has surveyed the construction activity and will come out with a detailed report next week. The group has long monitored Jewish settlement activity in the Palestinian territory of the West Bank.