Christian leaders urge Obama to make Israeli-Palestinian peace top priority   2008/12/08
By: Bob Allen of Associated Baptist Press

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- A group of Christian leaders in the United States has called on President-elect Barack Obama to make the Israeli-Palestinian peace process an immediate priority during his first year in office.

Leaders from a broad spectrum of American Christianity -- Catholic, Orthodox, mainline Protestant, evangelical and historic African-American denominations -- signed an
open letter Dec. 1 urging "vigorous U.S. diplomatic efforts" to secure peace in the Middle East.

"As Christians of the Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox and Protestant traditions, we are united by a biblical call to be peacemakers and a commitment to the two peoples of the Holy Land who yearn for a just peace," the letter said.

Sent to the president-elect as well as key members of his transition and national-security teams, the letter is a project of Christians for Middle East Peace, a coalition of 22 public-policy offices of national churches and agencies that supports a "two-state" solution consisting of both a viable Palestinian state and a secure Israel.

"The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has gone on too long," the letter says. "It has caused untold suffering for both sides, created economic hardships, and provided a rallying cry for extremists. As people of faith and hope, we believe peace is possible."

Original signatories include Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA.

"It doesn't take a prophet to see that without strong international support and encouragement to both parties for a negotiated settlement that honors the rights of both, the Middle East will continue to boil and engulf the world in its conflict, with the faithful Christian community of the Middle East being further decimated by the violence of the rivalry," Medley said.

The letter challenges the Obama administration to "provide sustained, high-level diplomatic leadership toward the clear goal of a final-status agreement" and to "encourage Israeli and Palestinian leaders to make historic compromises necessary for peace."

The leaders said a two-state solution would help strengthen U.S. security and improve stability and relationships throughout the Middle East. They also said failure to achieve resolution would negatively affect Christians in the Holy Land, whose numbers are steadily declining.

Mideast observers hope Obama's election will prompt a new round of Israeli-Palestinian talks, which have stalled since the Bush administration convened a conference aimed at reviving the peace process in November 2007 in Annapolis, Md.

Medley, one of three signatories identified as a Baptist -- along with Stan Hastey of the Alliance of Baptists and Tyrone Pitts of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. -- said the ABC-USA General Board has supported a two-state solution as far back as December 1980.

"The tragic irony of the situation is that two peoples, Jews and Palestinian Arabs, who have both profoundly experienced 'homelessness,' have not been able to agree to grant each other the right to a secure homeland," Medley said. "Unfortunately, as has been repeatedly pointed out by Palestinian Baptists, the situation has been further compounded by the fact that many American evangelicals, influenced by Christian Zionists, have dismissed out-of-hand the just concerns of Palestinian Arabs."

The letter is being followed by a campaign inviting church members to add their names to it at the campaign website. The final letter, signed by both Christian leaders and congregants, will be delivered to Obama during his inauguration.

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