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Religious Leaders Call on Bush to Lead on Middle East Peace
Ron Young of Seattle coordinates the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace which appealed to President Bush to resume Middle East peace negotiations.
January 13, 2005
by Alexa Smith
Source: Worldwide Faith News
LOUISVILLE - During a morning press conference in Washington, D.C. today, 35 Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders appealed to President George Bush to resume peace negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.
The National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace (NILIP) in the Middle East is a collaboration of the U.S. leadership of the three Abrahamic faiths - Christians, Jews and Muslims - and is a first in this arena.
The national leaders and heads of 28 organizations are also mobilizing local religious communities in U.S. cities to back this appeal to the president and to request support for it by their senators and representatives to Congress.
In the appeal the religious leaders are offering four specific suggestions:
* Appoint a full-time special presidential envoy, in coordination with the European Union, the Russian Federation and the U.N. Secretary General, to press ahead for full implementation of the Road Map to Peace;
* Negotiate a timetable for specific, simultaneous steps to be taken by the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government, with effective and highly visible monitoring to assure implementation by both sides;
* Mobilize increased international economic aid that is heavily monitored to build up the Palestinian Authority's capacity to provide security, prevent violent attacks on Israelis, and deliver humanitarian aid, vital services and developmental assistance to the Palestinian people - putting a high priority on creating jobs; and
* Support benchmark principles for mutually acceptable peace agreements drawn from earlier official negotiations and from Israeli-Palestinian civil society initiatives, such as the People's Voice and the Geneva Accords.
The Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, the stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) spoke to reporters at the National Press Club today as part of an NILIP delegation, which included His Eminence William Cardinal Keeler, archbishop of Baltimore; Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism; and Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, general secretary of the Islamic Society of North America.
"I am delighted that the leaders of the three major faith communities - Muslim, Jewish and Christian - have come to one mind on the importance of a two-state solution and on U.S. leadership for peace in the region," Kirkpatrick told the Presbyterian News Service. "This is clearly a moment of opportunity for peace in the Middle East, and I hope and pray that the Administration will seize the opportunity to join us in working for peace."
NILIP coordinator Ron Young of Seattle, WA, said that stalling peace negotiations until all the violence stops only gives a "veto" to extremists in this conflict when most Jewish and Arab Americans endorse similar solutions to the conflict and nearly 70 percent of Israelis and Palestinians would accept the same plan if it was mutual.
"We really have to overcome the sense that peace is not possible," Young said, calling the compromises offered in documents like the Geneva Accords "realistic" on the tough issues. "Now is the time for the administration to move quickly.
"Delay is not the way."
Last October these same religious leaders pushed Secretary of State Colin Powell to secure a full-time peace envoy to Israel and Palestine, just as the United States did in Northern Ireland and Sudan - without requiring that the violence stop before negotiations begin.
"This issue needs that same kind of attention," Young told PNS in a telephone interview a few days before the official appeal was issued.
Young said there are other hopeful signs that make "now" the opportune time to intervene:
* Palestinian elections put new leadership in place that has a priority on peace negotiations ("This is a new opportunity to get negotiations started again").
* The Israeli government intends to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, which may be the beginning of the end of the occupation ("The military occupation has not worked ... and withdrawal from all of the West Bank is the way to go in the end").
A second-term U.S. president can be less worried about elections and be more decisive on policy matters ("President Bush is the first president to explicitly support a two-state solution").
In its appeal for the United States to take a leading role in peace work, the document states: "For the sake of Israelis and Palestinians - for the sake of peace in the region and worldwide - negotiations must be restarted, the cycle of violence halted and progress resumed toward the goal of a viable, independent, democratic Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel with peace and security for both peoples. Continuing conflict is jeopardizing the prospect of a two-state solution and providing fuel for terrorism.
"We believe U.S. leadership to achieve Arab-Israeli-Palestinian peace will reduce support for terrorism, provide incentive in the region for democratic reform, economic development and arms control, and offer a powerful precedent for resolution of the conflict. Majorities of Israelis and Palestinians desperately want the violence to end, not only because of the terrible toll on human life, but also because it is clear that peace with justice - that is, real security for Israelis and an end of occupation for Palestinians - can only be achieved by negotiations. There are hopeful signs that Lebanon and Syria also recognize the urgency of resuming negotiations.
"Israelis and Palestinians and Arab states need America's help. Determined U.S. leadership for peace is urgently needed now."
Local religious leaders in some U.S. cities and Washington, D.C., are backing the NILIP appeal. Endorsements have come from religious groups in Atlanta; Baltimore; Charlotte; Chicago; Hartford/New Haven, CT; Detroit; Durham/Chapel Hill, NC; Indianapolis; a coalition of cities on Long Island, NY; Portland; San Francisco; Seattle and Minneapolis/St.Paul.
The document concludes: "Mr. President, based on the deepest beliefs in our three Abrahamic religious traditions, and on past progress and new opportunities, we believe peace is possible. And we believe determined U.S. leadership is essential for achieving peace.
"We pledge our prayers and active support for your efforts, and we will work to mobilize our communities' support nationwide."
More information about the NILIP campaign is available on its web site.
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