The National Council of Churches, along with Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) and other individuals and groups - including the UCC's General Minister and President the Rev. John H. Thomas, has supported unilateral commitments being urged upon Israeli, Palestinian and Arab leaders to rekindle the peace process in the Middle East.
The commitments, which have yet to be reached, fall short of an agreement to end the conflict in the Middle East, but President Obama has urged Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Nentanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to move quickly to a peace agreement.
Standing with Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas today in new York, President Obama declared, "my message to these two is clear. Despite all the obstacles, all the history, all the mistrust, we have to find a way forward."
In response, religious leaders have praised the President's efforts to bring peace to the region, and have cited six principles to help him "chart a path to a better future." The principles were stated in a message to Mr. Obama signed by the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, NCC General Secretary, Ambassador Warren Clark, CMEP Executive Director, and other U.S. Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders.
Ambassador Clark, addressing the National Council of Churches Governing Board, meeting here September 22, invited board members to ask their constituents to send a message to the President "that they support U.S. efforts to bring a just, lasting and comprehensive peace to the Holy Land."
Among the principles cited in the interfaith message to the President are support for Israel's right to exist in security and the right of the Palestinian people "to a viable, sovereign state of their own."
Sticking points between Israel and the Palestinian leadership can only be resolved "by bold American leadership" that can "help Israelis and Palestinians make the difficult decisions necessary to achieving lasting peace and hold the parties to account should they fail to honor their commitments."
Another principle affirmed by the religious leaders is that other Arab nations, including Syria and Lebanon, must be a part of the peace building. "We support the idea of a comprehensive regional peace that builds on the Arab Peace initiative, with its offer of recognition and normalization of relations between Israel and all Arab nations in exchange for resolution of all outstanding issues."
The statement expressed support of Mr. Obama's efforts to end Israeli settlement growth and Palestinian violence. "It is now time to move to the next state of diplomacy to address the tough issues that must be resolved to bring this conflict to a end."
We come from varied ethnic backgrounds and religious faiths that are diverse. We are Democrats and Republicans. We are veterans of war and of the struggle for peace. Together, we are all Americans.
We find common cause in supporting strong U.S. leadership to achieve a negotiated, sustainable resolution to the Arab-Israeli and Palestinian-Israeli conflicts – a fundamental American interest that crosses racial, ethnic and religious lines.
We support President Obama's determination to provide sustained, hands-on diplomatic leadership to bring the Israeli-Palestinian and broader Arab-Israeli conflict to an end through the creation of two viable, secure and independent states living side by side in peace and security.
The President has made resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a top priority since his very first day in office, and we commend his leadership. We applaud the vision the President has laid out for peace in the Middle East and the challenge he has laid down to all of us to help work for Middle East peace and a more positive future for the people of the region and the world.
This is a moment of great opportunity and urgency. After decades of tragic conflict, many Israelis and Palestinians despair of the possibility of peace. While the international community and majorities of the Israeli and Palestinian people are committed to a two-state solution as the best option for achieving peace and security, the window of opportunity is rapidly closing.
We express our support for the President's efforts to chart a path to a better future and to the following principles:
• We support both Israel's right to exist in security and the right of the Palestinian people to a viable, sovereign state of their own.
• A peace agreement will need to fulfill UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 and resolves critical issues of importance to the parties and the region including refugees, borders, Jerusalem, settlements, and security.
• The Israelis and Palestinians, however, have not – on their own – been able to reach agreement. After nearly two decades, we believe only bold American leadership can help Israelis and Palestinians make the difficult decisions necessary to achieve lasting peace and hold the parties to account should they fail to honor their commitments.
• We support the sense of real urgency that the President brings to the issue and applaud his determination to reach a negotiated resolution to the conflict during his first term in office.
• At the appropriate time, we will support the Administration if it decides to present proposals for a just and equitable solution that provides dignity, security and sovereignty for both peoples.
• Finally, we believe peace must be comprehensive – encompassing Syria and Lebanon as well as normalization of relations between Israel and the countries of the Arab world. We support the idea of a comprehensive regional peace that builds on the Arab Peace Initiative, with its offer of recognition and normalization of relations between Israel and all Arab nations in exchange for resolution of all outstanding issues.
Both sides must take steps to move the process forward, and we support the President's efforts to end Israeli settlement growth, to halt Palestinian violence and incitement. It is now time to move to the next stage of diplomacy and to address the tough issues that must be resolved to bring this conflict to an end.
There are many who will attempt to block the path to peace. They may believe that the status quo favors their interests or that time is on their side. The President should know that we understand the status quo is unsustainable and time is of the essence. We will stand with him as he promotes a fair and just resolution to this long-standing conflict and asks all parties to make the difficult but ultimately necessary compromises for peace.
We pledge to work with the President, to forge the path to peace and security for the Middle East. We also pledge to work with those in both societies who seek peace, justice, and security, and to stand up for those who hope for a better future for themselves and for the generations that follow.
Former Chief, Southeast Asian Division, CIA
President, Middle East Policy Council
Dr. Ziad Asali
President, American Task Force on Palestine
President, Jewish Reconstructionist Federation
Executive Director, J-Street
Ambassador Warren Clark
Executive Director, Churches for Middle East peace
President, Americans for Peace Now
The Rev. Mark Hanson
Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
President, Lutheran World Federation
Father Theodore Hesburgh
President Emeritus, Notre Dame University
The Most Rev. Howard J. Hubbard
Bishop of Albany
Chairman, Committee on International Justice and Peace
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Dr. Joel C. Hunter
Senior Pastor, Northland Church
Member, Executive Committee of the National Association of Evangelicals
Rev. Bill Hybels
Senior Pastor, Willow Creek Community Church
Associate for Global Engagement, Willow Creek Community Church
Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon
General Secretary, National Council of Churches
Rabbi Peter Knobel
Former President, Central Conference of American Rabbis
Rabbi Charles Kroloff
Former President, Central Conference of American Rabbis
Imam Mohamed Magid
Imam and Executive Director, All Dulles Area Muslim Society, ADAMS Center, Sterling, Va.
Muslim Public Affairs Council
Rev. John McCullough
Executive Director and CEO, Church World Service
Rev. Peter Morales
President, United Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick
Archbishop Emeritus of Washington
Editor in Chief, Christianity Today
Rev. Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (USA)
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf
Imam of Masjid al-Farah, New York City
Dr. Bob Roberts, Jr.
Senior Pastor, NorthWood Church, Dallas, Tex.
George Salem, Esq.
Chairman, Arab-American Institute
Strategic Advisor, DLA Piper LLP
Executive Director, Mennonite Central Committee
The Most Rev. Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate, the Episcopal Church
President, Evangelicals for Social Action
Rev. John H. Thomas
General Minister and President, United Church of Christ
President, Arab American Institute
This letter reflects the opinions of the individual signatories. Institutions are listed for identification purposes only.