Involve faith communities in these talks and future ones

November 25, 2007|By Tony Hall, Theodore McCarrick and Trond Bakkevig

As the State Department finalizes the agenda for the Middle East summit in Annapolis, it should consider including some last-minute participants who have the clout to build authentic support for the peace process. We suggest that they include the region's most senior Israeli and Palestinian religious leaders in these and all future talks. These courageous leaders have joined together to form a Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land with the express purpose of removing religion from the conflict and putting it into the peace process. Their presence at the negotiations could demonstrate profoundly and powerfully that productive dialogue is achievable, that peace is possible and that religions can serve as a force for peace and mutual understanding.

We have been working with this council, composed of the chief rabbis of Israel, the Catholic and Greek patriarchs and Anglican and Lutheran bishops of the Holy Land, and top Muslim leaders of the Palestinian areas, including the minister for religious affairs in the Palestinian government and the supreme judge of the Sharia Courts.

These leaders have achieved a unity of purpose for peace that is a first in the history of the Abrahamic faiths. They have declared together publicly that it is their responsibility to lead their communities to peaceful co-existence. Even at this late date, it would be a mistake not to include their voices in the negotiations.

History has shown that conflict in Israel and Palestine cannot be solved by the use of force or by decisions made by politicians alone. For 40 years, there have been accords, treaties and resolutions that have not secured peace for Israel or political freedom for the Palestinians.

Politicians may represent the will of the people, but their religions represent their hearts. Now we are fortunate that a group of the most prominent religious leaders from the Holy Land is willing to participate in negotiations and demonstrate how their initiatives can build trust. Among these initiatives are the council's agreements to establish hot-line procedures of rapid communication regarding access to holy sites; to monitor the media and counter derogatory representation of any religion; and to promote education in the schools that leads to mutual respect and acceptance.

The council also has a position on Jerusalem that could serve to inspire the politicians. Members support the designation of the Old City as a World Heritage Site; they support work to secure open access to the Old City for all communities; and they seek a common vision for the city that all of the Abrahamic religions regard as holy.

Jerusalem has no oil, gold or strategic military value. Political leaders need to remember that Jerusalem's importance grows only from its religious significance.

Through their spiritual partnership, these religious leaders offer new hope, which is essential for success but in short supply. Through the results of their own dialogue, they show that achievements are possible.

An enduring political solution will require the participation and consent of religious leaders of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is time now to ask them to participate.

U.S. Ambassador Tony Hall and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick hosted the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land's recent visit to the U.S. on behalf of the State Department. The Rev. Trond Bakkevig of the Church of Norway has been the facilitator for the council in Jerusalem.

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