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Over 10,000 American Jews Petition Sharon and Bush to Bring the Israeli Settlers Home to Israel

Jewish peace group supports responsible disengagement and settlement evacuation

CHICAGO (April 14, 2004) - Brit Tzedek v'Shalom/The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, a grassroots U.S. peace organization seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, today submitted over 10,000 signatures of American Jews calling on the Israeli and U.S. governments to provide funding to assist settlers to voluntarily relocate from the West Bank to Israel proper (within the pre-1967 borders).

The signatures were delivered today to President George Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Washington, D.C. by Brit Tzedek representatives. The Prime Minister and the President are meeting this week to discuss Mr. Sharon's proposal to disengage from the Gaza Strip and to evacuate a small number of West Bank settlements.

Among the signers of the "Call To Bring the Settlers Home to Israel," which was launched last May, is a diverse group, including: actors Theodore Bikel and Ed Asner; rabbis Arthur Hertzberg and Sue Levi Elwell; writers Michael Chabon, Grace Paley, Ariel Dorfman, Art Spiegelman and Vivian Gornick; feminist Gloria Steinem; scholars Robert J. Lifton, Morton Halperin, Ian Lustick and Herbert C. Kelman; journalists Studs Terkel, Katha Pollit and Eric Alterman; physicist Edward Witten; and playwright Tony Kushner.

In anticipation of Prime Minister Sharon's meeting with President Bush at the White House, Brit Tzedek called on its more than 16,000 members and supporters to flood the White House and Congress with qualified support for Prime Minister Sharon's disengagement proposal.

"Although we are in favor of evacuating settlements," said Brit Tzedek's President Marcia Freedman, "we can only support a responsible withdrawal that does not undermine the possibility of a future negotiated settlement and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Ultimately, we all know that long-lasting peace and reconciliation requires a negotiated agreement."

Brit Tzedek calls on the U.S. to stand firm in rejecting conditions that undermine future negotiations, including the demand for unqualified support of the current route of the security barrier and for recognition of the permanence and legitimacy of the large settlement blocks in the West Bank. The group further calls for the disengagement to take place in coordination with the Palestinian Authority to ensure an orderly transition and prevent the collapse of Palestinian civil society and the economy.

"The Bush administration is acting wisely by limiting its approval only to generalities that are well within the concessions offered by Palestinian moderates who endorsed the recent Geneva Accord," said Diane Balser, Brit Tzedek Vice-President. "The Geneva Accord map includes 2.5% of the West Bank within Israel, and the Palestinians agreed to a right of return to the new state of Palestine only. The Geneva agreement, for now at least, is serving as the blueprint for the U.S. guidelines in bringing about the President's vision of a negotiated, two state solution" Balser said, "and that is a good thing." The Geneva Accord is a draft extra-governmental peace agreement negotiated in 2003 by Israeli Yossi Beilin and Palestinian Yassir Abed Rabbo.

Successive U.S. administrations have described the settlements as "an obstacle to peace" between Israel and the Palestinians, and have urged Israel to stop building new settlements and expanding existing ones.

Accordingly, Brit Tzedek calls on Israel to stop providing economic incentives to encourage its citizens to move to the occupied territories in the West Bank, and to, instead, redirect these monies to assist in the voluntary relocation of settlers who wish to move back to Israel. Brit Tzedek also urges the Bush administration to spearhead the creation of an international fund to facilitate this relocation.

Successive polls by the Hopp Research Institute (2000, 2002) indicate that as many as 30-40% of the settlers in the West Bank would relocate immediately if they had the financial wherewithal to do so.

"A clear majority of settlers is prepared to withdraw from the occupied territories voluntarily if given sufficient financial compensation," says Steve Masters, chair of Brit Tzedek's Advocacy and Policy Committee. "Brit Tzedek is saying that evacuation of the Gaza settlements is not enough. As a next step, both Israel and the U.S. must make voluntary relocation possible as well, for all settlers, including those on the West Bank."

Brit Tzedek v'Shalom is a national grassroots membership organization representing 16,000 Jews and supports a negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is based roughly on the 1967 borders, sharing Jerusalem, and evacuation of settlements.

For the full text of the "Call to Bring the Settlers Home," go to http://bringthemhome.btvshalom.org/

For more information on Brit Tzedek v'Shalom/ The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, visit http://www.btvshalom.org


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