WASHINGTON — Religious leaders warned President Obama that continuing strife between Palestinians and Israelis threatens to wipe out a Christian presence in the Holy Land.
Fifty-six representatives of various Protestant and Catholic faiths — including several Baptists — wrote a letter June 4 applauding the president for making peace in the Holy Land a top priority but warning that time is running out for a viable and peaceful two-state solution to conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
While concerned about Jews and Muslims, the leaders said they are particularly worried about the plight of the Palestinian Christian community.
"In the birthplace of our faith, one of the world's oldest Christian communities is dwindling rapidly, and with them the possibility of a day when three thriving faith communities live in shared peace in Jerusalem," the letter said.
Unless there is an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, the leaders warned "Christians in the Holy Land may cease to exist as a viable community."
The leaders said a "window of opportunity" for a two-state solution establishing peace and security "is rapidly closing" in the Middle East.
"Continued settlement growth and expansion are rapidly diminishing any possibility for the creation of a viable Palestinian state," the letter said. "The targeting of Israeli civilians through ongoing rocket fire and the insistent rejection by some of Israel's right to exist reinforces the destructive status quo. These actions, along with the route of the separation barrier, movement restrictions and continued home demolitions, serve to undermine Palestinians and Israelis alike who seek peace. As hope dims, the threat of violence grows and hardliners are strengthened."
The leaders said the current stalemate demonstrates that Israelis and Palestinians cannot reach a negotiated agreement without America's strong helping hand. They urged the Obama administration "to present proposals that go beyond the mere principle of two states and lay out a just and equitable solution that provides dignity, security and sovereignty for both peoples."
One leader signing the letter was Jimmy Allen, coordinator of the New Baptist Covenant, a movement aimed at uniting Baptists in North America divided by race and denomination on common concerns like poverty and justice.
Other Baptist signers included Joy Fenner, former president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas; David Goatley, executive secretary-treasurer of the Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Convention; Wayne Johnson, general secretary of the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America; Willie Maynard, treasurer of the National Baptist Convention, Inc.; Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA; Tyrone Pitts, general secretary of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.; and William Shaw, president of the National Baptist Convention, Inc.
Some of those individuals signed an earlier letter to the president drafted by Christian leaders invited to a two-day summit on growing despair in the Holy Land at The Carter Center in May.
In that letter religious leaders pledged to Obama "to continue to build constituencies that will advocate for a just political settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" and committed to "an ongoing conversation with you about achieving the solution we can no longer postpone."
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.