Leaders of 3 faiths seek peace in Mideast

Several Snohomish County religious leaders are among those spearheading an effort to convince President Bush to jump-start peace negotiations in the Middle East.

More than 150 Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders across the country have signed a petition urging Bush to appoint a special envoy for Middle East peace, said Ron Young of Stanwood, co-chairman of the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East.

The group sponsored the appeal, which calls for the United States to use its influence to bring Israelis and Palestinians together for an agreement that would lead to a Palestinian state, along with measures that guarantee Israel’s security.

The signatories include high-ranking officials of major Christian, Jewish and Muslim denominations and organizations.

With the election Jan. 9 of moderate Mahmoud Abbas as president of the Palestinian Authority, and with Israel planning to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, now is the time to make a major push for peace, Young said.

“But this window will not last,” he said. “If there is not active, strong leadership from the United States, my guess is this opportunity will be lost.”

Young said Bush might be more likely to make a major push for peace in his second term, because he won’t have to face re-election.

To cynics who believe peace is not possible, Rabbi Harley Karz-Wagman of Temple Beth Or in Everett pointed to efforts such as the People’s Voice, a proposed peace agreement that several hundred thousand Israelis and Palestinians have signed.

And he pointed to the 1979 peace agreement between Egypt and Israel – something that was inconceivable at the time, he said. President Jimmy Carter helped bring Israeli and Egyptian leaders together.

Karz-Wagman said a key part of the petition, which he signed, calls for the United States to mobilize major economic aid to the Palestinians. “It is really hopelessness that fuels fear and fuels extremism,” he said.

Bishop William Chris Boerger of Mill Creek, who heads the northwest Washington synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said the United States needs to get both sides to stop the finger-pointing and concentrate on their common desire to end the bloodshed.

Hisham Farajallah of Seattle, president of the Islamic Center of Washington, said most people on both sides are ready to compromise.

“It’s impossible that both groups are going to get 100 percent of what they want,” he said. “But they can get something that is acceptable.”

Farajallah is a Palestinian who spent his first 18 years in the West Bank city of Hebron. He recalled the friendships he and other Palestinians had with Jews.

“The people want peace,” he said. “Unfortunately, what divides us are politics.”

Reporter David Olson: 425-339-3452 or dolson@heraldnet.com.

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