Religious Leaders Urge Steady Efforts for Peace after Hamas Victory

WASHINGTON – Religious leaders of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths urged President Bush on Tuesday to maintain a strong role in peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinian people following the Palestinian elections which saw the extremist Hamas party come into power.

At a press conference at the National Press Club on Tuesday, the leaders released a letter addressed to the president that was signed by 35 heads of religious groups saying they supported his “careful” response to the new leadership. Prior to the election the United States had branded Hamas a terrorist group.

“Mr. President, based on the deepest beliefs in our three Abrahamic religious traditions, we support your vision of peace – an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state existing alongside the State of Israel, with peace and security for both peoples and a negotiated resolution of the status of Jerusalem,” stated the letter.

The religious leaders urged the president to support an immediate ceasefire on both sides as well as continuing efforts to follow the Road Map to peace which would create a separate Palestinian state.

They urged Bush to use the withdrawal of Israel from Gaza to generate confidence that agreements to more “difficult” issues could be reached in the future. They also said he should appoint an “on-the-ground” special envoy to monitor negotiations.

Afterwards the leaders, who together form the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East, left for a visit with Under Secretary of State Karen Hughes to emphasize their message.

“We are together because we believe that this is what our people want us to do and we believe that this is what God wants us to do," said Roman Catholic Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington.

Rabbi Amy Small, a past President of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, called the situation with Hamas a “very critical moment” and a “moment of transition.”

“It could be one that we see as fraught with peril. Though that is true we would like to see it as a moment of opportunity,” she said, adding that polls show that the majority of people on both sides prefer negotiated peace over violence.

Dr. Sayyid Muhammad Syeed, Secretary General of the Islamic Society of North America, said he recognized that it was natural that religious leaders from various communities were concerned about the matter. He added that while the same group was upset about recent events in Iraq, that the Palestinian-Israeli issue should be a priority.