Christians, Muslims and Jews around the world prayed for this week’s Mideast peace talks in Annapolis, Md.–some for their success and others for them to fail.
The talks opened Tuesday with an announcement by President Bush that representatives of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization had agreed to “vigorous, ongoing and continuous negotiations” aimed at ending bloodshed between the two peoples before the end of 2008.
“We meet to lay the foundation for the establishment of a new nation–a democratic Palestinian state that will live side by side with Israel in peace and security,” Bush said.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said it wasn’t an overstatement to say “our region stands at a crossroad that separates two historical phases, pre-Annapolis phase and post-Annapolis phase.”
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said “there is no path other than the path of peace” and “no just solution other than the solution of two national states for two peoples.”
“I believe that there is no path that does not involve painful compromise for you, the Palestinians, and for us, the Israelis,” he said.
Not everyone described the first Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in the United States since the 2000 Camp David Peace Summit in such momentous terms. Before the talks convened, the White House scaled down expectations to negotiations toward a two-state solution and not a statement about how that solution might look.
“Our purpose here in Annapolis is not to conclude an agreement,” President Bush said. “Rather, it is to launch negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. For the rest of us, our job is to encourage the parties in this effort–and to give them the support they need to succeed.”
Much of the Arab world reacted with skepticism. According to the Associated Press, Iran criticized its hard-line ally Syria for participating in the U.S.-brokered talks, warning Arab countries not to fall for an Israeli plot. Damascus defended the decision, saying it served Syria’s interests of better relations with the West and the possibility of a peace deal with Israel that would return of the Golan Heights, seized by Israel in 1967.
Reuters reported that a Palestinian protestor was killed at an anti-Annapolis rally in Hebron, West Bank, during a clash between security forces loyal to Abbas and Islamists who brand him a traitor.
In Jordan, protestors denounced the summit as a sellout of the Palestinian cause, shouting “Death to Israel” and burning American flags at a demonstration in Amman.
Protest activities in Jerusalem began with a mass prayer session at the Western Wall and included resolutions denouncing the ceding of any parts of the land to non-Jews.
The World Council of Churches, meanwhile, representing 560 million Christians in more than 110 countries, welcomed the “potential importance” of the gathering and commended leaders for efforts to promote peace.
“We are praying that steps taken now will serve to bring a just peace closer for both the Israeli and the Palestinian people,” WCC General Secretary Samuel Kobia said in a letter.
Leaders of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. expressed encouragement and prayers for the summit.
“We know that this conference will not be able to address all issues that pertain to this conflict, such as refugees, settlements, and final borders,” NCC President Michael Livingston, Acting General Secretary Clare Chapman and Associate General Secretary for International Affairs and Peace Antonios Kireopoulos said in a letter to President Bush. “Nevertheless, we do know that this conference can reaffirm the goals and principles that are central to a lasting peace: an end to the Occupation, and a viable two-state solution; a renunciation of violence by all parties and an affirmation of the rights and security concerns of both Israelis and Palestinians; and a shared Jerusalem, which can one day be a symbol of the peace that is central to the faith of Christians, Jews, and Muslims.”
Churches for Middle East Peace actively mobilized church members and clergy nationwide in prayer and advocacy in support of the Annapolis meeting. In October, CMEP sent resources to over 1,500 congregations around the country and asked church advocates to pray for peace last Sunday. The organization also applauded 135 members of the House of Representatives for sending a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in support of the Annapolis conference.
Protestors in Annapolis represented both Christian groups supporting the peace talks and Christian Zionists opposed to them.
“I’m hoping to wake up our leadership to the fact that there are many people in this land who do not agree with the division of Israel and the division of Jerusalem,” Ronald Beals, secretary treasurer of the East Texas Biblical Prophecy Forum, told the Associated Press.
A Christians United for Israel blog called the summit “little more than a symbolic gesture” but warned Christian Zionists are “hardly out of the woods yet.”
“There is every indication that this Summit will now serve as the launching point for a peace process that will be fraught with peril for Israel,” said CUFI Executive Director David Brog. “Even if the forum will change, the underlying logic will stay the same. Israel will be expected to transfer crucial territory to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a man whose will to live in peace with Israel is questionable, and whose ability to enforce peace with Israel is nonexistent.”
CUFI founder John Hagee said last month at the 26th annual “Night to Honor Israel” at his Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, that he “was concerned about this upcoming so-called peace summit.”
“America must never pressure Israel to give up land. It must never pressure her to divide Jerusalem,” Hagee said, according to the Jerusalem Post. “Turning Jerusalem over to the Palestinians is tantamount to giving it to the Taliban.”
Joel Rosenberg, best-selling author of books on Bible prophecy, Israel and the End Times including The Last Jihad, The Last Days, The Ezekiel Option and The Copper Scroll, addressed President Bush in The Conservative Voice.
“Mr. President, don’t divide Jerusalem,” he pleaded. “Don’t consider it. Don’t talk about it. Don’t encourage others to talk about it. Doing so will bring war–and a horrifying one at that–not the peace that you seek.”
Rosenberg encouraged the president to rather open the conference “by making it crystal clear that precisely because we want peace in the Middle East, the U.S. will not support any division of Jerusalem any more than we would support dividing Washington or London or Paris or Moscow with our enemies or our neighbors.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.