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Religious Leaders Urge US Leadership in Israeli–Palestine Peace Talks

WASHINGTON (CNS) — An interfaith group of religious leaders, including two Catholic prelates, called for “strong, sustained” U.S. leadership in peace talks between Israel and Palestine “before it is too late.”

“We believe that, in exercising strong U.S. leadership for peace, you can count on substantial support from members of churches, synagogues and mosques across the country,” said the May 20 letter to President Barack Obama.

Among the signers were Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, who is the retired archbishop of Washington, and Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.

In all, more than two dozen Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders signed the letter, which was issued by the National Interreligous Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East.

A day before the religious leaders’ letter, Obama made a speech focusing on the Arab world in which he said the 1967 Israeli-Palestinian borders should be the starting point for peace talks, with mutually agreed land swaps as part of a “two-state solution.”

In a May 23 speech before a joint session of Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued his own conditions for peace talks. Among them was for Palestinians to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” and for Palestinian to renounce Hamas as a terrorist organization. Hamas and Fatah, another Palestinian political party, recently announced their intent to go forward under a unity agreement.

Against all of this is the backdrop of a possible United Nations’ vote in September recognizing a Palestinian state. Last September, Obama had expressed his hopes that Palestinians would achieve statehood within a year.

“If the opportunity for a two-state solution is missed, there almost inevitably will be renewed violent conflict with more suffering for Israelis and Palestinians, and increased dangers of extremism,” the religious leaders’ letter said.

“We urge you to visit Jerusalem and the region soon to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to restart negotiations,” they told Obama.

The United States “should continue to respond carefully to the new Palestinian unity agreement and not act precipitously to cut off aid that is essential for humanitarian purposes and for building the capacity of a future Palestinian state,” the religious leaders added.

“The agreement is helpful in forming a government capable of representing the West Bank and Gaza together. The unity government must commit itself to rejecting violence and negotiating a two–state peace agreement with Israel. We believe the United States should insist on these commitments.”

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