The Rev. Gradye Parsons, General Assembly stated clerk for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), has joined nearly 30 other U.S. Christian leaders in welcoming the direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians being held this week in Washington.
In a letter to President Obama, the group — brought together by Churches for Middle East Peace, also noted the need for sustained U.S. cooperation with both parties if an agreement is to be reached and said the direct talks, backed by the U.S., provide a unique opportunity to resolve key issues that have been persistent barriers to peace.
"We are grateful for President Obama's tireless efforts for this hope," said Parsons. "The Presbyterian Church hopes that the talks will bring lasting peace for Israel and Palestine."
Added Bishop Howard J. Hubbard, chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace: "This conflict continues to undermine the social, economic and spiritual fabric of the lives of all persons in the region, including Christians who have lived in the Holy Land since the earliest days of our faith. With majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians supporting a durable peace, it is incumbent on their political leaders and our own to do everything possible to help bring about a just peace."
The letter to Obama says, in part, "We fully support your goal of ending the occupation that began in 1967 and achieving a just, lasting and comprehensive peace with a viable Palestinian state living side by side with Israel in peace and security. At the same time we have no illusions about the difficulty of the task ahead…Without your help it seems unlikely that an agreement can be reached."
The leaders' statement also committed to continue to work with the American Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities to support peace with justice in the Holy Land, and with Palestinians and Israelis to assure them of achieving both people’s aspirations for peace and security.
"The U.S. will need to empower both sides to take risks for peace and when necessary to make proposals to bridge remaining differences,” the letter states. “The United States must be clear that actions or words by either side in the coming year that undermine confidence in the negotiations, incite disrespect or prejudge the outcome of final status issues will not be tolerated."
The full text of the Christian leaders' letter to Obama, dated Aug. 30:
Dear Mr. President,
As leaders of American Christian faith communities deeply concerned with the need to end the long-standing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, we are pleased with the success of your diplomacy in bringing the Prime Minister of Israel and the President of the Palestinian Authority together in Washington September 1-2 to restart direct negotiations aimed at reaching an agreement on final status issues within the coming year. We fully support your goal of ending the occupation that began in 1967 and achieving a just, lasting and comprehensive peace with a viable Palestinian state living side by side with Israel in peace and security.
At the same time we have no illusions about the difficulty of the task ahead. Both sides hold deep convictions contrary to those held by the other. Although many issues have been clarified in past negotiations, major compromises by both sides will be needed at considerable political risk and cost. Without your help it seems unlikely that an agreement can be reached. Time is short. If an agreement is not reached within the coming year, it may not be reachable at all.
For that reason we call on you and your negotiating team to continue your vigilant efforts to help the parties find acceptable solutions. We are heartened by the statement of Senator George Mitchell that he will remain closely involved in the negotiations. The U.S. will need to empower both sides to take risks for peace and when necessary to make proposals to bridge remaining differences. The United States must be clear that actions or words by either side in the coming year that undermine confidence in the negotiations, incite disrespect or prejudge the outcome of final status issues will not be tolerated.
In support of this effort, we pledge to maintain and expand our dialogue on this issue with American Jewish and Palestinian communities and to assure them of our steadfast support for achieving the aspirations of both Israel and the Palestinian people for peace and security.
Mr. President, we are praying for you as you seek to bring God's justice and peace to a place torn by walls and weapons. We are convinced that with your vigilant support this dream can be fulfilled, and the lives of Palestinians and Israelis, as well as U.S. national security interests, can be transformed for the better.
In addition to Parsons and Hubbard, signers of the letter were Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Armenian Orthodox Church; Jimmy R. Allen, New Baptist Covenant; Ray Bakke, Bakke Graduate University; the Rev. Geoffrey Black, United Church of Christ; Bishop Wayne Burkett,
Moravian Church in America; J. Ron Byler, Mennonite Central Committee U.S.; the Rev. Thomas Cassidy, Catholic Conference of Major Superiors of Men’s Institutes; the Rev. Tony Campolo, Eastern University.
Also, Marie Dennis, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns; the Rev. David Emmanuel Goatley,
Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Convention; the Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, Reformed Church in America; the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Lynne Hybels,Willow Creek Community Church; the Rev. Larry Janezic, Franciscan Action Network; the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA.
And, the Rev. A. Roy Medley, American Baptist Churches USA; the Rev. John L. McCullough,
Church World Service; Stanley J. Noffsinger, Church of the Brethren; Leonard Rogers, Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding; Daniel A. Seeger, American Friends Service; Ronald J. Sider, Evangelicals for Social Action; Stephen J. Thurston, National Baptist Convention of America; Joe Volk, Friends Committee on National Legislation; Jim Wallis, Sojourners; the Rev. Sharon E. Watkins, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Bishop John F. White, African Methodist Episcopal Church