Religious Leaders Want to Help Politicians Broker Peace
February 28, 2012 – A delegation of religious leaders from the Holy Land told a Georgetown audience yesterday that United States religious, political and academic leaders need to play a role in helping propel Israel and Palestine through a peace process.
Georgetown’s Office of the President and The Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land (CRIHL) sponsored the Feb. 27 panel, called “How Can Religious Leaders Contribute to Peace in the Holy Land.”
The CRIHL was established in 2005 as the first organized body to represent the highest official authorities in the Holy Land.
Obstacles for Peace
Council members are visiting Washington, D.C., as part of a mission to urge American religious, political and academic leaders to help protect holy sites, foster mutual religious respect and fight against religiously motivated violence.
“What religious leaders can do is help politicians deal with those issues of religious nature, which can become obstacles for peace,” said Trond Bakkevig of CRIHL.
"The discussion highlighted the importance of religious leaders in the pursuit of Middle East peace,” said Thomas Banchoff, director of the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. “Any effort to exclude religious communities from the peace process will only play into the hands of extremists.”
The religious leaders on the panel were Oded Wiener, director general of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel; Fuad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem; and Salah Zuhayka, director general of the Ministry of the Waqf.
“We at the council are functioning together with our differences but with a deep degree of friendship and mutual respect in order to promote the sort of moderation which will permit the political negotiators to function,” Wiener said.
Zuhayka pointed to the failed 2000 Middle East Camp David Summit with Bill Clinton (F’68), Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak – when Arafat could not agree to share control of Al-Aqsa Mosque with Israel – as a reason why the council exists.
“If at that time there was such a council like we do have now, I don’t think we [would have reached] such a sad end for this negotiation,” he said.
Twal said Jerusalem should have “free access to all the holy places to every believer,” regardless if they are Christian, Jewish or Muslim.
He added that the physical barriers and checkpoints separating Israel from the West Bank and Bethlehem also create barriers against harmony.
“We must demolish the other walls in the heart of the people and politicians … we need more love, more forgiveness, more justice and more dignity to everybody,” Twal said.