Nearly 40 leaders from a broad coalition of US Christian denominations have sent a letter to President George W. Bush asking that he "make Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, in the context of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace initiative" a priority for his administration.
The move comes as a US Senate committee rejected President Bush's plan to send extra troops to Iraq, passing the measure to a full Senate vote which will probably take place next week. The Democrat-controlled Foreign Relations Committee dismissed the latest White House strategy as "not in the national interest" in a 12-9 vote.
Among those signing the churches' letter on the Middle East were the Rev Dr Bob Edgar, general secretary, National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (NCCUSA) and the the Rev Michael Livingston, president of the NCC and executive director of the International Council of Community Churches, one of the council's 35 member denominations.
"Even though we are from a wide range of Christian traditions - Orthodox, Catholic, mainstream and evangelical Protestants - we stand close together in our hopes and prayers for peace in the land we all call Holy and for the reconciliation of the children of Abraham - Jews, Christians and Muslims," says the letter.
"We commend your vision of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state living as a peaceful neighbor alongside the state of Israel, with both nations secure and recognized by their neighbors," says the church leaders, whose communique was sent to the White House on 23 January 2007. "With your active engagement, this vision could reignite a passion for peace that can overcome the appeal of violence, vengeance and exclusivity."
The leaders also expressed great concern for the Palestinian Christian community - echoing comments by Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams and others.
"The Palestinian Christian leaders have asked us to bring to your attention the very grave situation of Jerusalem," state their US counterparts. "With the construction by Israel of the separation barrier, many of the faithful - both Christians and Muslims - are excluded from the Holy City, and Jerusalem is severed from Bethlehem."
The letter was initiated by Churches for Middle East Peace, a broadly-based advocacy group of nearly two dozen denominations seeking a non-violent solution in Israel and Palestine.