Peace efforts, continuing talks for interreligious hope


Peace has been an elusive goal for the people of the Middle East for most of our lifetimes. In an effort to add their assistance to the process, two dozen Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders met last week with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Advisor Gen. James Jones, pledging their support and help for continuing talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Saying that they are people of hope who “refuse to give in to cynicism or despair, the leaders delivered a declaration uniting in support of “active, fair and firm U.S. leadership for Arab-Israeli-Palestinian peace.”

The religious leaders, acting as the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East, said in their statement that they “remain firmly committed to a two-state solution to the (Israeli-Palestinian) conflict as the only viable way forward” and that “concerted, sustained U.S. leadership is essential. And we know that time is not on the side of peace, that delay is not an option.” The statement noted that the U.S.-brokered negotiations in early September between Israel and the Palestinian Authority affirmed the goal of reaching a mutually acceptable agreement within one year.

Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, were among the leaders who presented the statement. Bishop Hubbard explained that “one of the biggest obstacles to peace in the Middle East is cynicism. As a people of faith, we must remember that with God all things are possible. The human spirit can overcome even the longest and most violent of conflicts.” “We are always hopeful for peace,” added Cardinal McCarrick. “History shows us repeatedly that historic change can occur at unlikely times and so we must never give into despair.”

In addition to the Catholic bishops signing, there were six rabbis and Muslim leaders, representing some of the most powerful Jewish and Muslim organizations in the country. They were joined by a dozen other Christian leaders including, Armenian Orthodox Archbishop Vicken Aykasian, Bishop Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church in America, United Methodist Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader, as well as representatives of the Greek Orthodox, Disciples of Christ and Presbyterian churches and the United Church of Christ.

“With the support and engagement of the United States, earlier this month, direct negotiations resumed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority with the goal of reaching agreement within one year.” “It is imperative that the peace talks continue,” said the leaders in their joint statement. “Our faith traditions teach that every person is created by the one God and deserving of respect,” they affirmed. “This common religious heritage finds expression in our common commitment to peace and justice for all.” “It will be difficult to achieve, but peace is possible,” they acknowledged. They continued, “As religious leaders in the United States, we have prayed for peace, made public statements, met with public officials, and stood in solidarity with religious leaders in Israel, the Palestinian Territories and throughout the region.”

They continued, “Majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians still support a two-state solution. Arab states have declared their commitment to peace in the Arab Peace Initiative. There are U.S. diplomatic efforts to restart Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese negotiations for peace.” “With the resumption of direct negotiations, clarity is demanded,” they asserted. “So let us be clear. As religious leaders, we remain firmly committed to a two-state solution to the conflict as the only viable way forward.”

The religious leaders were adamant that the time for peace is now. As people of hope, the religious leaders of our faith communities tell us that we all have a part to play in resolving these age-old problems. In conclusion they tell us how to help, “We call upon the members of our religious communities to pray for the peace of Jerusalem and to support active, fair and firm U.S. leadership to advance comprehensive peace in the Middle East.”