Twenty Episcopalians from around the country joined an ecumenical coalition in Washington, D.C., May 6-8 to press for sustained diplomatic engagement by the Bush Administration to bring a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and a negotiated resolution on the status of Jerusalem.

Twenty Episcopalians from around the country joined an ecumenical coalition in Washington, D.C., May 6-8 to press for sustained diplomatic engagement by the Bush Administration to bring a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and a negotiated resolution on the status of Jerusalem.

Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), a coalition of 22 Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican and Catholic church bodies and organizations, held the conference for 150 attendees who participated in some 65 meetings with Members of Congress and key staff.

Before meeting with the law makers, the delegates worshiped together and attended "inside the beltway" briefings on related issues given by lobbyists, representatives of think tanks, academics and government officials.

A silent processional, broken only by the jingling of an incense censor, set a reflective tone for the opening prayer service at National City Christian Church, which included two songs of peace in Hebrew and Arabic, "Yerushalayim shel Zahav" and "Ya ar-Rub as-Salaami."

"These are real heart songs of Jerusalem," said Ann Staal, a CMEP board member representing the Reformed Church in America, who organized and led the service. "If you were to sing one of these on the streets of Jerusalem, I’m sure someone would join you."

Homilies were offered by Roman Catholic Bishop Denis Madden, auxiliary Bishop of Baltimore, Archbishop Vicken Aykazian of the Armenian Orthodox Church and the Episcopal Church’s 25th Presiding Bishop, Frank Griswold.

Griswold described a visit to the tomb of Abraham in the West Bank city of Hebron.

"To my left there was a group engaged in Koran study and to my right, a group of Jewish women praying," he said. "And I thought, what is it that makes it so difficult for us to recognize each other as children of one father?"

There are three Abrahamic siblings, Griswold said, because "it’s important that no one feels they’ve got the corner on divine love and compassion. We are reminded that God loves everyone."

Jerusalem is a divided city, he said, and "everything that divides us is in some way represented in those walls." Therefore peace in Jerusalem would be a "sacramental symbol" for what is possible elsewhere.

In her opening remarks, Maureen Shea, director of the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations and chair of the CMEP Board of Directors, described the Israel-Palestine situation as "the single most difficult issue on which to be an advocate."

"Peace cannot be realized without the strong backing of our churches," said CMEP’s executive director Corinne Whitlatch, adding that "of all the issues it is Jerusalem to which the churches bring the most credibility, clout and understanding."

Recounting the history of the American presence in Jerusalem, where the U.S. has maintained a consulate since the 1870s, Philip C. Wilcox Jr., president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, a former U.S. Consul General in Jerusalem and a member of St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., said, "Rich with history, burdened with conflict, Jerusalem is at the heart of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict."

After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, when Israel claimed Jerusalem as its capital in defiance of the United Nations Partition Plan, the U.S., which does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, kept its embassy in Tel Aviv. It still maintains a consulate in Jerusalem, which the state of Israel does not recognize.

"Our embassy remains in Tel Aviv," he said. "This will continue I am certain until there is a comprehensive negotiated settlement that is accepted by all parties."

Wilcox spoke of the "the doctrine of united eternal Israeli Jerusalem" which he said was a myth promoted by Messianic Jews and the Israeli military in the aftermath of the 1967 War. The truth, he said, is that in those days and today "East and West Jerusalem are really two cities … Jerusalem will have to be shared if there is ever to be peace."

These and other briefings, including a presentation by Shea on "Syria, Iran and Iraq: Keys to Middle East Peace" will be available online.

Shea and Daryl Byler, director of the Mennonite Central Committee’s Washington office, reflected on their recent trip to Iran and the need for diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran and Syria. Shea, who visited Syria with a CMEP delegation last year, remarked: "It is encouraging that Secretary Rice met with her Syrian counterpart while in Egypt last week. We hope that this will be a first step toward restoring our relations with Syria, and indicative of possible future steps with Iran."

Ambassador Wilcox and Geneva Accord negotiators Ghaith Al-Omari and Daniel Levy, who also addressed the group, each pointed to opinion polls that consistently show that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians support a two-state solution.

"We know the solution," Levy said. "What we have lacked is the political will. What we also miss is American friends to help push this forward … If you are interested in restoring America’s credibility in the Middle East, you have to go back into the business of making peace between Israel and Palestine."

"Credibility is everything," said Lincoln D. Chafee, an Episcopalian and former Republican U.S. Senator from Rhode Island. "I suggest to you [the U.S.] does not have it now."

But, he added: "Policy is not made by Congress. The real power is only through the power of the person."

"The vast, vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians want the problem solved," said Judith Kipper, adviser for Middle East Programs and director of the Energy Security Group at the Council on Foreign Relations. "They want a two-state solution. We as Americans really have an important role to play … It’s an avenue to go back to our core values of peace keeping and peace making."