“We believe a bold new initiative for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement should be an immediate priority of the new Administration in 2013,” read the Jan. 25 statement of the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East.
“We fear the opportunity for a peaceful resolution is rapidly waning and the current stagnation encourages the rejectionists on both sides.”
The Catholic signatories were Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines; Bishop Denis Madden, an auxiliary of Baltimore; and Cardinal Edgar McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington.
The statement said that “twilight has fallen” on the possibility of a two-state solution in the region. The initiative is urging that the U.S. show leadership before “darkness falls on the hopes for a peaceful resolution.”
The religious leaders noted that the status quo is both “unsustainable and dangerous,” and that the current stalemate undermines American security, destabilizes the Middle East, and “allows continuing Israeli settlement expansion.”
They called a two-state solution “the only realistic solution to the conflict.”
The signatories pointed to the ceasefire achieved by American and Egyptian intervention in Gaza recently. This, they said, serves as a model for American leadership in the ongoing conflict.
“We affirm President Obama's support for a negotiated two-state peace agreement that provides for a secure and recognized Israel living in peace alongside a viable and independent Palestinian state,” they said.
Jewish signatories included rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and imam Mohammad Magid of the Islamic Society of North America was among the Muslims.
The religious leaders' call has been echoed by John Kerry, who is currently undergoing confirmation hearings in the Senate to be Secretary of State in Obama's second administration.
He voiced concern at his hearings Jan. 25 that “the window or door on a two-state solution could shut,” which “would be disastrous for all concerned.” Two-state talks broke down in 2010 and have not been pursued since.
The talks broke down because of Israeli construction of settlements in the West Bank. These settlements are illegal under international law, and Palestine is considering pursuing Israel at the International Criminal Court over the issue.
In Israeli elections last week, the incumbent party, the right-wing Likud, narrowly won. They will form a coalition government, though Likud has recently pushed for accelerated settlement construction in the West Bank.
Meanwhile, the Syrian civil war, now nearly two years old, threatens to destabilize the region. Some 60,000 have been killed in the conflict, and two million are internally displaced.
More than 670,000 Syrian refugees are straining resources in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, and Egypt. Jordan has threatened to close its border with Syria, being potentially unable to cope with the scale of the refugee crisis.
A group of 30 Christian, Muslim, and Jewish religious leaders signed a statement urging the Obama administration to work for a “viable two-state peace agreement” in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Middle East, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict