Middle East concerns, resolution of Palestinian/Israeli crisis raised

Executive Council resolution calls for four-step action
March 23, 2007

Concerns about the continuing war in Iraq, increasing regional tensions in the Middle East and the need for more regional diplomacy are being raised by The Episcopal Church. Also of concern is the progress of a two-state solution for Palestinians and Israelis as essential to reducing those tensions.

At its recent meeting in Portland, Oregon, the Executive Council approved a resolution calling for action in four steps: expressing encouragement that Secretary of State Condelezza Rice has said the U.S. will participate in international meetings sponsored by the Government of Iraq and including Syria and Iran; opposing possible U.S. military action against the Islamic Republic of Iran and urging regional diplomacy, including both Iran and Syria; asking the U.S. government, in consultation with leaders in Iraq and neighboring countries, to set a deadline for full military disengagement; and urging the U.S. government to pursue evenhandedly a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.

The Executive Council carries out programs and policies adopted by the General Convention, and oversees the ministry and mission of the Episcopal Church. The council is composed of 38 members, including bishops, priests or deacons, and lay people, 20 of whom are elected by General Convention and 18 by provincial synods.

The Rev. Canon Brian Grieves, director of Peace and Justice Ministries for the Episcopal Church, said: "Peace in the Middle East can only come about with the engagement of all the parties in the region. We will continue our strong advocacy for a resolution of the Palestinian/Israeli crisis that will end the Occupation, bring full recognition and security for both countries, with Jerusalem their shared capital."

The Episcopal Church also signed a March 7, 2007 letter from Churches for Middle East Peace to Secretary Rice "applauding her decision to join high level talks with Iran and Syria." The letter then raised the following concern:

"We are alarmed that, despite Administration comments to the contrary, there is a widely-held perception that the United States is preparing for a military attack on Iran or is preparing Israel for such an attack. Active diplomacy, accompanied by the rhetoric of peacemaking and respect for the United Nations and international treaties, could restore much of the goodwill that the United States once enjoyed as well as international cooperation in challenging Iran regarding its nuclear program."

The letter also stated: "Concurrent with the new diplomatic approach relative to Iraq, we urge your and the President's urgent and sustained attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which is inexorably linked to all key issues in the Middle East."

Maureen Shea, director of Government Relations for the Episcopal Church, recently returned from a week-long trip with an ecumenical delegation to Iran.

"We must engage directly with Iran in order to reduce the increasing instability throughout the region," Shea said. "Our delegation has asked that both countries cease using language that defines the other as 'enemy,' and begin the direct talks essential to deescalating violence and to reaching common understandings. We have a long and complicated history with Iran, but the U.S. must recognize that it is an important country in the region and cannot and should not be shut out of our deliberations."

The delegation is meeting with Members of Congress about the trip and mapping a strategy for opening relations and for promoting more people to people exchanges, including religious leaders, members of Congress, and civil society.