An informal group of American citizens, including prominent Christian leaders, has just released a letter today making the point that they will stand behind President Obama as he works to secure America's national interests in the Middle East. All appear to agree that America's national interest, Israel's and the Arab world's, should be in sync, but take President Obama's perspective that a comprehensive peace agreement is definitely an American national security imperative. The full text of the letter follows below.
The letter comes at an important point as the President Tuesday indicated his shift from unsuccessful negotiations with Israel and Arab countries on confidence building measures to permanent status negotiations. The President may find in the days and weeks ahead that the same challenges that he faced in negotiating a settlement freeze will dog America if we attempt to leave the process to the parties or attempt piecemeal solutions.
The good news is that the President will likely find strong support among Americans as he goes for the gold.
The signatories of today's letter seem to be part of a trend among Americans with ethnic or religious ties to the Middle East to increasingly place American national interests as a priority in their advocacy.
Arab-Americans and Muslim Americans understand this phenomenon, being forced to grapple with emotional loyalties when America has been in conflict with countries in the Middle East. One advantage we have had, ironically, is that we rarely agree with how various Arab or Muslim governments interpret their own national interests - or Islam for that matter. This has made it easier to "love the people, but hate the government." Ask any Iranian-American.
Jewish Americans seem to fall in the same pattern. Almost 78% of American Jews voted for Obama even though there was a concerted campaign to paint him as a threat to Israel because he opposed the US starting a war with Iran and stated his support for a peace agreement between Israel and the Arab states. In fact, despite the fact that many Israelis expressed support for the McCain/Palin ticket, Jews in America made it clear which principles they supported.
This is true with Christians in America who have closely followed events in the Holy Land. Yes, there is a rich powerful vocal minority represented by John Hagee and Pat Robertson that almost literally want to hug Israel to death. But there is also a majority that deeply loves both Israelis and Palestinians but loathes the occupation, the extremism it creates, and the threat it poses to American values and interests.
This concern for American interests and political values, above all else, is perhaps the deepest cause for empathy and common cause among American communities with religious or ethnic links to the Middle East, and may help tie them more firmly to realists in US decision making circles in the months ahead.
In other words, Obama's struggle for peace, through an end to the occupation, can end up being another unifying factor among diverse groups of Americans.
The full text of the letter:
Letter in Support of a Comprehensive Middle East Peace:
An American National Interest Imperative
We come from varied ethnic backgrounds and religious faiths that are diverse. We are Democrats and Republicans. We are veterans of war and of the struggle for peace. Together, we are all Americans.
We find common cause in supporting strong U.S. leadership to achieve a negotiated, sustainable resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict - a fundamental American interest that crosses racial, ethnic and religious lines.
We support President Obama's determination to provide sustained, hands-on diplomatic leadership to bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an end through the creation of two viable, secure and independent states living side by side in peace and security.
The President has made resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a top priority since his very first day in office, and we commend his leadership. We applaud the vision the President has laid out for peace in the Middle East and the challenge he has laid down to all of us to help work for peace and a more positive future for the people of the region and the world.
This is a moment of great opportunity and urgency. After decades of tragic conflict, many Israelis and Palestinians despair of the possibility of peace. While the international community and majorities of the Israeli and Palestinian people are committed to a two-state solution as the best option for achieving peace and security, the window of opportunity is rapidly closing.
We express our support for U.S. leadership to chart a path to a better future and to the following principles:
- We support both Israel's right to exist in security and the right of the Palestinian people to a viable, sovereign and secure state of their own.
- A peace agreement will need to fulfill UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 and resolve critical issues of importance to the parties including refugees, borders, Jerusalem, settlements, and security.
- The Israelis and Palestinians, however, have not - on their own - been able to reach agreement. After nearly two decades of negotiations, we believe bold American leadership can help Israelis and Palestinians make the difficult decisions necessary to achieve lasting peace and hold the parties to account should they fail to honor their commitments.
- We support the sense of real urgency that the President brings to the issue and his determination to reach a negotiated resolution to the conflict during his first term in office.
- At the appropriate time, we will support the Administration if it decides to present proposals for a just and equitable solution that provides dignity, security and sovereignty for both peoples.
- Finally, we believe a peace agreement should be comprehensive - encompassing Syria and Lebanon as well as normalization of relations between Israel and the countries of the Arab world. We support the idea of a comprehensive regional peace that builds on the Arab Peace Initiative, with its offer of recognition and normalization of relations between Israel and all Arab nations in exchange for resolution of all outstanding issues.
Both sides must take steps to move the process forward, and we support the President's efforts to end Israeli settlement growth and to halt Palestinian violence and incitement. It is now time to move to the next stage of diplomacy and to address the tough issues that must be resolved to bring this conflict to an end.
There are many who will attempt to block the path to peace. They may believe that the status quo favors their interests or that time is on their side. The President should know that we understand the status quo is unsustainable and time is of the essence. We will stand with him as he promotes a fair and just resolution to this long-standing conflict and asks all parties to make the difficult but ultimately necessary compromises for peace.
We pledge to work with the President, to forge the path to peace and security for the Middle East. We also pledge to work with those in both societies who seek peace, justice, and security, and to stand up for those who hope for a better future for themselves and for the generations that follow.
Former Chief, Southeast Asian Division, CIA
President, Middle East Policy Council
Dr. Ziad Asali
President, American Task Force on Palestine
President, Jewish Reconstructionist Federation
Executive Director, J Street
Ambassador Warren Clark
Executive Director, Churches for Middle East Peace
President, Americans for Peace Now
The Rev. Mark Hanson
Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
President, Lutheran World Federation
Father Theodore Hesburgh
President Emeritus, Notre Dame University
The Most Rev. Howard J. Hubbard
Bishop of Albany
Chairman, Committee on International Justice and Peace
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Dr. Joel C. Hunter
Senior Pastor, Northland Church
Member, Executive Committee of the National Association of Evangelicals
Rev. Bill Hybels
Senior Pastor, Willow Creek Community Church
Advocate for Global Engagement, Willow Creek Community Church
Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon
General Secretary, National Council of Churches
Rabbi Peter Knobel
Former President, Central Conference of American Rabbis
Rabbi Charles Kroloff
Former President, Central Conference of American Rabbis
Imam Mohamed Magid
Imam and Executive Director, All Dulles Area Muslim Society, ADAMS Center, in Sterling, Virginia
Executive Director, Muslim Public Affairs Council
Rev. John McCullough
Executive Director and CEO, Church World Service
Rev. Peter Morales
President, United Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick
Archbishop Emeritus of Washington
Editor in Chief, Christianity Today
Rev. Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (USA)
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf
Imam of Masjid al-Farah, New York City
Dr. Bob Roberts, Jr.
Senior Pastor, NorthWood Church, Dallas, TX
Hon. George R. Salem, Esq.
Chairman, Arab-American Institute
Strategic Advisor, DLA Piper LLP
Executive Director, Mennonite Central Committee
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church
President, Evangelicals for Social Action
Rev. John Thomas
General Minister and President, United Church of Christ
Dr. James Zogby
President, Arab American Institute
**This letter reflects the opinions of the individual signatories. Institutions are listed for identification purposes only**