Mideast Peace Talks

WASHINGTON (CNS) — In meetings with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones Sept. 29, more than two dozen Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders voiced support for continuing peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

“We refuse, now and always, to give into cynicism or despair,” they said in a joint statement presented to the U.S. officials.

“One of the biggest obstacles to peace in the Middle East is cynicism,” said Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, in a statement released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops after the meeting with Clinton. “As people of faith, we must remember that with God all things are possible.”

He was joined in the meetings by Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, as well as a dozen other Christian clergy, six rabbis representing several Jewish organizations and half a dozen Muslim leaders, representing the Islamic Society of North America, the Islamic Center of America, the Council of Mosques and United Muslims of America.

In the joint statement issued by the group, known as the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East, the religious leaders called for members of their faith 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.”

They said it is imperative that peace talks continue and reiterated their previous call to halt settlement expansion, but added that they support U.S. efforts to work with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “to reach a mutually acceptable agreement that will allow the negotiations to continue.”

Two years ago the group issued a statement declaring there was a “window of hope” for peace. Now, its members said, ’we declare there is ‘new hope for the peace of Jerusalem.’ It will be difficult to achieve, but peace is possible.”

The statement noted that majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians support a two-state solution to the long-running dispute over territory, and Arab states have declared their commitment to the Arab Peace Initiative. Also hopeful, it said, are diplomatic efforts to restart Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese peace negotiations and other official and informal negotiations that have produced outlines of compromises for resolution of the conflict.

The religious leaders said that as direct negotiations resume, clarity is required. “As religious leaders, we remain firmly committed to a two-state solution to the conflict as the only viable way forward. We believe that concerted, sustained U.S. leadership for peace is essential. And we know that time is not on the side of peace, that delay is not an option.”

“The path to peace shuns violence and embraces dialogue,” they said. “This path demands reciprocal steps that build confidence. This path can lead to a future of two states, Israel and a viable, independent Palestine, living side by side in peace with security and dignity for both peoples, stability in the region and a comprehensive peace between Israel and all her Arab neighbors.”

Besides the two Catholic prelates, Christian participants included Armenian Orthodox Archbishop Vicken Aykasian; Bishop Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; United Methodist Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader; and representatives of the Greek Orthodox, Episcopal, Disciples of Christ and Presbyterian churches and the United Church of Christ.

The Jewish leaders included Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of Reform Judaism, Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis; and Rabbi Amy Small, past president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Assembly.

Among the Muslim leaders were Sayyid Muhammad Syeed, national director of the Islamic Society of North America, Imam Mohamed Magid, president of the Islamic Society of North America; Iftekhar A. Hai, founding director, United Muslims of America; Imam Yahya Hendi, Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University; and Dawud Assad, president emeritus of the Council of Mosques USA.

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