WASHINGTON (December 14, 2006)- Leaders of twenty-nine national Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious communities and organizations have issued a united call for the Bush Administration and the new Congress to make Arab-Israeli-Palestinian peace a top priority of U.S. foreign policy.
The statement, Arab-Israeli-Palestinian Peace: From Crisis to Hope, affirms peace as "an essential of faith" in all three religious traditions and asserts that our nation has "an inescapable responsibility and an indispensable role to provide creative, determined leadership for building a just peace for all in the Middle East."
The statement comes at a time when the ceasefire between Israelis and Palestinians raises hope for restarting negotiations, and when the Baker-Hamilton Report concludes that renewed efforts for comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace are essential for achieving U.S. goals in the Middle East. The leaders of the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative will seek a meeting with Secretary of State Rice to express their support for urgent U.S. leadership for peace.
Opening a conference in September where the new interreligious consensus was developed, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of the Archdiocese of Washington acknowledged the challenges ahead.
"We gather at a time of crisis in the Middle East," Cardinal McCarrick said. "But times of crisis can also become opportunities for change. This is my hope for today's meeting. I hope that together we can build on the unprecedented past work for peace which has joined us together and that in solidarity we can articulate a new consensus for peace that addresses central aspects of the current situation in the Middle East."
The new six-page statement calls on the United States to:
* Exercise persistent, determined leadership at the highest levels to secure a comprehensive and just resolution of the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242, 338, and 1397.
* Work, in coordination with the Quartet (U.S., European Union, Russia, United Nations), to create conditions that bring about serious negotiations for a two-state solution following the lines of the Roadmap and earlier civil society initiatives;
* Support full implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1701 and 1559 in relation to Lebanon; and
* Undertake diplomatic efforts to restart Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese negotiations for peace.
Rabbi Paul Menitoff, immediate past Executive Vice President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, commented, "The awful events in Gaza, Lebanon and Israel confirm two principles on which we all agree. There cannot be peace without negotiations, and the U.S. Administration with support of Congress has to be the one to move the parties along the path to peace." Looking ahead, Menitoff added, "We know how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will end. There will be two states living side-by-side in peace with mutually acceptable arrangements for sharing Jerusalem and resolving the issue of refugees. The only question is how many more Israelis and Palestinians will die before this vision is realized." Rabbi Amy Small of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association noted, "Our religious teachings command us to get beyond blaming one another and instead admonish us to work together for justice and peace for all God's children."
In this same spirit, Bishop Mark Hanson, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, declared, "I am absolutely convinced that we as U.S. religious leaders of the three Abrahamic faiths have a moral obligation to work together - publicly, persistently, and passionately -- with clarity and courage to address together the steps that can be taken, and must be taken, to move from violence to peace. Hanson emphasized, "The first and most important audience for this statement is the United States Government. We can and must call upon the United States to exercise its responsibility to make a strong contribution to a just and lasting peace in the Middle East."
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church at the time of the September meeting, Frank Griswold, agreed, and highlighted the necessity of U.S. support for Jerusalem becoming "the shared capital of Israel and a future state of Palestine," and "for mutually acceptable international monitoring or peacekeeping to help halt the violence and guarantee security for all."
Dr. Sayyid Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America spoke about an experience at their annual convention—the largest in North America – attended by thousands of Muslims. "At our interfaith banquet that included prominent Christian and Jewish speakers, Muslim leaders of the Islamic Society of North America expressed support for accepting both Israel and a Palestinian state; they denounced terrorism as having no basis in Islamic thought; and they articulated support for the Arab League Peace Initiative. Tragically, these moderate, mainstream views receive almost no coverage in the media."
Specifically addressing the situation in Gaza, Imam Yahya Hendi, a Palestinian American who is the Muslim Chaplain at Georgetown University, urged the United States "to press for release of the Israeli soldier, Corporal Shalit, and release of the Palestinian legislators and other prisoners as important steps toward resolving the crisis in Gaza and restarting negotiations for peace."
The religious leaders committed themselves "to working with the Administration and with Congress to support active, fair and firm U.S. leadership to help Israelis, Palestinians and Arab states achieve a just peace." The leaders pledged themselves "to building public support for peace with justice for all in the region." The full statement is available at http://www.usccb.org/sdwp/international/nilistatement.htm. The letter to Secretary Rice is available at http:// www.usccb.org/sdwp/international/nilirice.htm
The National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East was founded in 2003 with support from A Different Future, a non-profit organization committed to reclaiming the public idea space for moderate voices for peace.