WASHINGTON – Religious leaders of Christian, Jewish, and Islamic traditions has called for "active" and "determined" U.S. leadership in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations in 2008.
The leaders are part of the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative (NILI), which includes the heads of Christian denominations, seminaries and magazines. NILI members are rallying support for U.S. involvement in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations as President George W. Bush prepares to make his first visit to the region on Jan. 8 to support the peace talks.
"On principles for resolving final status issues, including borders, security, settlements, refugees, and Jerusalem, NILI is urging the Administration to support benchmark ideas developed by Israelis and Palestinians in official and unofficial negotiations over many years, and reflected in the Geneva Accord," read an NILI statement released Wednesday.
"Public opinion polls report majority support among Israelis and Palestinians for a peace agreement along these lines."
Peace negotiations began Thursday as Israeli and Palestinian leaders met for their first meeting since last month's U.S.-hosted Mideast Summit. Both sides agreed to temporarily ignore their difference over Israeli construction in an east Jerusalem neighborhood – which Palestinian officials want as their future capital – and continue to work on a peace agreement, according to USA Today.
The historic Annapolis peace summit, spearheaded by the Bush administration, renewed peace talks after seven years of violence and concluded with an agreement by Israeli and Palestinian leaders to create a final peace agreement based on a two-state solution by the end of 2008.
Negotiations will take place between Palestinian leaders in the West Bank, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The Hamas government, which took over Gaza in June, is excluded from the negotiating table. The United States and Israel considers Hamas a terrorist organization.
However, the NILI expressed concern over the split in Palestinian governance between the West Bank and Gaza and its effect on the peace deal. The group has called for "quiet" U.S. support to form a new unified Palestinian government capable of representing the West Bank and Gaza, as well as committed to rejecting violence and negotiating a two-state solution with Israel.
Other steps advised by the interfaith advocacy group include a comprehensive ceasefire; the Palestinian Authority to develop effective coordinated security, ending illegal arms shipments and militias; and Israel freezing expansion of settlements, releasing Palestinian prisoners and easing movements for Palestinians.
Christian leaders involved in the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative include Bishop Mark Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; the Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church; the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); the Rev. Michael E. Livingston, president of the National Council of Churches USA; His Eminence Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington; and David Neff, editor and vice president of Christianity Today.