Mideast Peace Summit Prompts Religious Advice

A high-profile Palestinian-Israeli peace summit is not only attracting attention from the political arena, but also from religious leaders who have expressed concern and support for Tuesday's meeting, which could potentially resolve or at least alleviate the bitter border dispute between the long-time foes.

Arab senior officials, including those from Saudi Arabia and Syria, will join representatives from more than 40 countries and organizations in Annapolis, Md., for an intensive day of negotiations aimed at bringing peace to the Middle East.

The main issue at the Annapolis talks will be establishment of an independent Palestinian state – the two-state solution. But regional peace is also expected to be discussed with anti-Israeli foes, such as Syria and Saudi Arabia, in attendance.

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The gathering is the first Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in the United States since the 2000 Camp David peace summit.

"After seven years of total stalemate, President Bush with [Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice are providing an opportunity for us and the Israelis to resume the negotiations," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said, according to CNN.

"The different thing today from any other conferences throughout our conflict – you have the Arab world coming."

The World Council of Churches, representing 560 million Christians in over 110 countries, welcomed the event. In a letter to U.S., Israeli, and Palestinian leaders, the ecumenical church body noted the "potential importance" of the gathering and commended the leaders for their efforts to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

As suggestions, WCC listed three criteria it considers necessary for successful peace talks: good faith negotiations, recognition and involvement of parties with interests at stake; and adherence to the international rule of law.

Parties need to keep away from tactics that avoid, delay or dilute the peace process, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, WCC's general secretary, wrote in the letter. Furthermore, the process this week must be "genuinely multilateral" in order for advances to be made.

Agreements or processes also need to be judged against United Nations Security Council Resolutions, treaty obligations of the parties involved, international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

"It is critical to respond to the reality that negotiations with similar intentions in the past have been counterproductive, allowing the occupation to continue and intensify," Kobia wrote. "It is our fervent hope that the lessons learned in past peace processes will give you courage and perseverance.

"We are praying that steps taken now will serve to bring a just peace closer for both the Israeli and the Palestinian people."

The National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA also wrote a letter of support for the summit.

On Sunday, an interfaith rally was held in Annapolis on a hill overlooking the U.S. Naval Academy where the leaders will convene. More than 100 Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergies and believers prayed for the success of the peace conference at the rally, according to The Associated Press.

Tuesday's gathering, unlike the Camp David summit, boasts an international body with influence over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. During Camp David, only the United States, Israel and the Palestinian Authority were active in talks.

"It's positive that Syria chose to send anybody," Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisen said to CNN. "We weren't sure they would. The fact that they're choosing to send somebody who is openly Syrian … [to] a conference which is all about the Israeli-Palestinian track is an important one."

Syria is considered by the U.S. State Department and Israel as a sponsor of terrorism.

U.S. President George W. Bush will meet with Israelis and Palestinians on Wednesday at the White House after the full day of meetings on Tuesday.

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