Washington - The highest ranking Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders from the Holy Land made a groundbreaking statement of support this week for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
The Muslim sheiks in charge of Jerusalem’s holy places met with Israel’s chief rabbis and with the leaders of the major Christian denominations to present a paper that not only recognized the need to end Israeli occupation but also committed all religious leaders to work together for peace in the region.
The communiqué, presented Wednesday in a joint press conference in Washington, said that “Palestinians yearn for the end to occupation and what they see as their inalienable rights. Israelis long for the day when they can live in personal and national security. Together we must find ways of reaching these goals.”
The summit appears to represent the first time that Israel’s chief rabbis have spoken of ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
The Jewish contingent was composed of Israel’s two chief rabbis, the director general of the chief rabbinate, the chief rabbi of Haifa and a top rabbi at the American Jewish Congress.
On the Muslim side, the meeting represented the first time that top Muslim clerics have agreed to work with Israelis on the peace process. Muslim participants included Sheikh Hamed Tamimi, who is head of the Sharia courts and is a former al-Aqsa Mosque preacher who had a reputation as a Palestinian hard-liner.
The Christian contingent included the Greek Orthodox and Latin Patriarchs, as well as the local head of the Anglican Church.
While avoiding discussing core issues such as the future of Jerusalem, the religious leaders did agree on the need to ensure open access to the Old City for all communities. There was also an agreement on establishing a hotline among members of the group in order to resolve problems regarding the holy sites before they get out of hand.
The Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land began meeting two years ago in talks sponsored by the Norwegian government. The council’s summit in Washington this week was hosted by the State Department. While not formally part of the peace negotiations, members of the group expressed their wish to be heard as all sides embark on peace talks later this month.
Possible involvement of the religious leaders in the upcoming Annapolis, Md., summit was also discussed in a meeting the group held Tuesday with members of the Jewish community.
“They would like us to make the parties in Annapolis aware of their support for the peace efforts,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, who chaired the meeting.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.