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Presiding Bishop, religious leaders address Israeli/Palestinian peacemaking in meeting with Condoleezza Rice

By Maureen Shea
[Episcopal News Service]  Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori joined five Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders from the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East (NILI) in a meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice January 29 to discuss the Israeli/Palestinian situation. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns and Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom John Hanford IV also participated in the meeting.

"The timing was particularly important in light of Secretary Rice's meeting February 2 with the 'Quartet' -- the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations -- that is to be followed by talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders," Jefferts Schori said. "Despite a very difficult year for Palestinians and Israelis, it is significant that 35 U.S. religious leaders, affiliated with more than two dozen Jewish, Christian and Muslim national organizations, are calling for the United States to make peace in the Middle East an urgent priority and to provide creative, determined leadership for building that peace."

Jefferts Schori was referring to the 35 religious leaders who wrote to Rice December 12 asking for a meeting with her to discuss the "urgent situation in the Middle East" and calling on the United States to make peace in the region an "urgent priority."

The group that met with Rice asked her to engage in bold, consistent U.S. leadership for peace in the Middle East -- leadership that supports and challenges both Israelis and Palestinians, noting that it would require ongoing and active high level engagement, with appointment of a special envoy to help hold both sides accountable in a step-by-step peace process.

The leaders committed themselves to build public support for peace in their communities, knowing that there are difficult and necessary steps on the road to a two-state solution.

"This was a substantive and hopeful meeting in which we recognized that sometimes it is out of great despair that we are able to come together and then move forward," Jefferts Schori said. "But as Cardinal [Theodore] McCarrick told the press: 'The real measure of the success of our meeting can only be taken in the coming weeks and months as actions and events unfold.'"

The group, which was led by McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, also included Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Rabbi Paul Menitoff, former executive vice president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis; Rabbi Amy Small, past president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association; and Dr. Sayyid Syeed, former general secretary of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and now head of their Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances in Washington.

A full copy of the NILI statement is available here.

The leaders' statement is also available from the Episcopal Public Policy Network as a bulletin insert here.

Last week, Jefferts Schori was one of 39 leaders who signed a Churches for Middle East Peace letter to President George W. Bush encouraging him to make Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, in the context of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace initiative, an urgent priority for his Administration. The letter emphasized deepening concern for the welfare and future of the Palestinian Christian community and calls attention to the very grave situation of Jerusalem.

The full text of the letter is available here.