Religious Leaders Call for Peace in Mideast

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Calling efforts toward an Arab-Israeli-Palestinian peace “more, not less, urgent,” a group of Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders warned candidates for political office “not to use any rhetoric that could make prospects for peace more problematic.”

“As Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious leaders, we strongly caution candidates to do no harm to chances for a two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement,” said a statement issued March 1 by the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East.

Catholic signers of the statement included Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace; Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington; and Auxiliary Bishop Denis J. Madden of Baltimore.

Other signers came from major Muslim and Jewish organizations and various Christian denominations.

“As national religious leaders, we pledge to urge members of our communities across the country to work actively in the coming months to preserve and further prepare the ground for Middle East peace, and to support positive efforts by political leaders in both parties to help move toward this goal,” they said.

The statement called on the Obama administration, Congress and political candidates to:

— Warn both sides against violence and undertake diplomatic efforts to achieve a lasting cease-fire in the region.

— Support Palestinian “state-building and economic development capacity,” as well as an immediate end to the congressional hold on humanitarian aid.

— Support Palestinian efforts to form a government, as long as it agrees to halt violence, respect all existing agreements and negotiate a two-state solution with Israel.

— Urge Israel to halt all settlement expansion.

— Urge resumption of negotiations for a two-state peace agreement based on U.N. Security Council resolutions and earlier agreements.

The religious leaders said achieving peace “would have profoundly positive effects on other current conflicts and challenges in the Middle East,” including the aftermath of the war in Iraq, tensions in U.S.-Pakistan relations, the crisis in Syria and “the dangers of confrontation over Iran’s nuclear development activities.”

In a separate letter March 2 to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on behalf of the bishops, Bishop Pates said there has been “an alarming escalation in rhetoric and tensions” regarding Iran’s nuclear capacities. He expressed particular concern about talk of an Israeli pre-emptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.

“Discussing or promoting military options at this time is unwise and may be counterproductive,” he said. “Actual or threatened military strikes are likely to strengthen the regime in power in Iran and would further marginalize those in Iran who want to abide by international norms.”

Before military options are considered, Bishop Pates said, “all alternatives, including effective and targeted sanctions and incentives for Iran to engage in diplomacy and cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency, need to be exhausted.”

He urged the Obama administration “to continue to seek to resolve concerns over Iran’s nuclear program in ways that reduce the threat of nuclear nonproliferation while maintaining stability in the Middle East.”

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