Religious leaders cite concerns ahead of Annapolis peace conference

By staff writers
November 22, 2007

Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders of the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative in the US have met with Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, R. Nicholas Burns, expressing support for 'active, determined and consistent' US leadership for peace, but raising specific concerns related to the Annapolis peace conference and follow-up efforts.

The religious leaders emphasized the 'crucial importance' of simultaneous steps on the ground by Israel and the Palestinian Authority that "can help restore people's hopes that peace is possible." They said steps should include a comprehensive ceasefire in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza; the Palestinian Authority blocking illegal arms shipments and disarming militias; and the Government of Israel freezing expansion of settlements, withdrawing “illegal outposts,” and easing movement for Palestinians by reducing the number of military check points.

On the matter of a statement of principles to guide negotiations on final status issues, including borders and security, settlements, refugees, and Jerusalem, the religious leaders urged US support for the principles and practical ideas developed by Israelis and Palestinians in official and unofficial negotiations, and reflected in public documents such as the People’s Voice initiative and the Geneva Accord.

But the religious leaders expressed concern that the split in Palestinian governance between the West Bank and Gaza was incompatible with a durable peace agreement. Acknowledging the sensitivity of the issue the leaders urged support for efforts to encourage a unified Palestinian government capable of representing the West Bank and Gaza, and committed to recognizing Israel, rejecting violence and negotiating a two-state solution with Israel.

Appreciating the positive importance of the Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative and Arab states’ participation in the Annapolis conference for the prospect of comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace, the religious leaders told Burns they believed an important goal of the conference should be to restart Syrian-Israeli and Lebanese-Israeli negotiations for peace.

The delegation included His Eminence Theodore Cardinal McCarrick; Rabbi David Saperstein, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Dr. Sayyid Syeed, Islamic Society of North America; Bishop Ann Sherer, United Methodist Church; Fr. Tigran Karpatyen (for Archbishop Vicken Aykasian, Armenian Orthodox Church); Maureen Shea (for Presiding Bishop Catherine Jefferts Schori, Episcopal Church); Dennis Frado (for Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America); and Dr. Stephen Colecchi and Ronald Young, Staff.

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