Last January, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders from the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East (NILI) met with Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to discuss the Israeli Palestinian situation. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns and Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom John Hanford IV also participated in the meeting.
The group, which was led by McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, also included Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of The Episcopal Church, Rabbi Paul Menitoff, former executive vice president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis; Rabbi Amy Small, past president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association; and Dr. Sayyid Syeed, former general secretary of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and now head of their Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances in Washington.
The meeting was follow-up to the statement "Arab-Israeli-Palestinian Peace: From Crisis to Hope," which was issued last December and signed by 35 religious leaders.
"The timing was particularly important in light of Secretary Rice’’s meeting on February 2 with the ’’Quartet’’ -- the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations -- that is to be followed by talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders," Bishop Jefferts Schori said. "Despite a very difficult year for Palestinians and Israelis, it is significant that 35 US religious leaders, affiliated with more than two dozen Jewish, Christian and Muslim national organisations, are calling for the United States to make peace in the Middle East an urgent priority and provide creative, determined leadership for building that peace."
The group asked Rice her to engage in bold, consistent US leadership for peace in the Middle East—leadership that supports and challenges both Israelis and Palestinians, noting that it would require ongoing and active high level engagement, with appointment of a special envoy to help hold both sides accountable in a step-by-step peace process.
The leaders committed themselves to build public support for peace in their communities, knowing that there are difficult and necessary steps on the road to a two-state solution. During the meeting, members of NILI were invited into regular conversations with the State Department, according to Bishop Hanson. "This will allow us to hold each other accountable for taking steps toward achieving lasting and just peace between Israelis and Palestinians," he said.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, spoke as the leader of the delegation in a news conference following the meeting. "This morning we had substantive and excellent discussions with Secretary Rice. But the real measure of our meeting can only be taken in the coming weeks and months as actions and events unfold," he said.
Formed in 1984, Churches for Middle East Peace is a Washington-based program of the Alliance of Baptists, American Friends Service Committee, Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Armenian Orthodox Church, Catholic Conference of Major Superiors of Men’’s Institutes, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Church of the Brethren, Church World Service, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Franciscan Friars OFM (English Speaking Conference, JPIC Council), Friends Committee on National Legislation, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Maryknoll Missioners, Mennonite Central Committee, Moravian Church in America, National Council of Churches, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, Unitarian Universalist Association, United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church (GBCS & GBGM).