CHICAGO (ELCA) — U.S. Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders are calling for a bold new U.S. initiative for a two-state peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East "before it is too late." In a Jan. 25 statement issued by the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative, 30 religious leaders — including leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) — endorsed the statement, which says that "twilight has fallen on the possibility of a two-state solution."
The endorsers of the statement said that an Israeli-Palestinian settlement should be an immediate priority of the Obama administration in 2013. The United States "has unique leverage and credibility in the region. Indeed, no past progress towards peace has occurred in this conflict without U.S. leadership, facilitation or staunch support. Once again, we need active, fair and firm U.S. leadership to help break the current deadlock and to achieve a two-state peace agreement now before it is too late," said the statement.
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, said the statement signed by U.S. Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders is "a clear sign that our resolve to work together for peace in the Holy Land will not be diminished by those whose actions perpetuate the cycle of violence and occupation or by those who say it is too late to find a two-state solution."
Hanson said that in a recent phone conversation with the Rev. Munib Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, Younan asked, "'Will the voices of religious extremists be the only ones heard in the world? Is the United States going to exercise bold leadership so that the possibility of a two-state solution will finally become a reality? We must not give up hope.'"
While the issues are complex, Hanson said the mandate is clear — "negotiating a two-state peace agreement that provides for a secure and recognized Israel living in peace alongside a viable and independent Palestinian state must be a priority for all of us. As we continue to accompany the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land in their witness to the gospel and working for peace, may our commitment be unwavering and our prayers unceasing."
"For a safe and secure future for Palestinians, Israelis and others in the region, it is critical for the Obama administration to move as soon as possible to bring the parties back to negotiations with the goal of a final status agreement," said Dennis W. Frado, director for the Lutheran Office for World Community, New York.
In the statement, leaders of the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East are pledged to mobilize broad public support for U.S. leadership for peace and mobilize the support that exists in churches, synagogues and mosques across the country.
"As Christians, we are people of the dawn. Now is the time for us to speak boldly to the Obama administration about ushering in the dawn of peace through a new viable initiative for a two-state solution," said Kathryn Lohre, director for ecumenical and inter-religious relations at ELCA churchwide ministries. She also endorsed the statement as president of the National Council of Churches in Christ.
Earlier in January, Hanson joined 35 other U.S. Christian leaders in another letter calling upon President Obama to "bring the full energies of your Administration to bear toward facilitating a just, durable, and final negotiated agreement" between Israelis and Palestinians. Saying that the United States "should place the full weight of its support behind the long-term well-being of Israelis and Palestinians," they cited "an unprecedented opportunity for your Administration to play a catalytic role in the resolution of this conflict."
The full text of the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative statement and list of endorsers is available on the HCEF website: