Summary of meetings held in Washington, DC, April 21-22, 2016
On Thursday, April 21, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton joined ELCJHL Bishop Munib Younan, (Latin) Patriarch Twal, (Anglican) Archbishop Dawani and several others of the Palestinian delegation who came to Washington after the Pursuing Peace and Strengthening Presence: The Atlanta Summit of Churches in the USA and the Holy Land meeting.
The first meeting was in the Longworth House Office Building where the group met with Rep. Chris Stewart (R-2nd-UT) and Mr. Drew Bowling, Communications and Policy Advisor to Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-1st-NE). The delegation orally presented the outcome of the Atlanta Summit and then discussed the general situation of the churches and Christians in the Holy Land and the wider Middle East.
A lunch for the delegation was hosted by Churches for Middle East Peace, at which a number of the members of the CMEP Leadership Council and other guests were present. James Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute, was accompanied by Mr. Omar Shehabi of Palestine Works which recently prepared a report on religious freedom in Israel and the Occupied Territories for the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.
In the late afternoon the delegation visited the White House and met with Dr. Colin Kahl, Deputy Asst. to the President and National Security Advisor to the Vice-President, and Ms. Yael Lempert, Special Asst. to the President and Senior Director for the Levant, Israel and Egypt at the National Security Council.
The delegation gave them a letter to the president and a copy of the Atlanta Summit Document. The delegation members highlighted the importance of education; the need to fight extremism and radicalism; the centrality of Jerusalem to peace; and the work of their educational, health and other diaconal work.
Bishop Younan noted the mediation role church leaders had played during Secy. of State Colin Powell’s tenure and that it could be done again. He expressed thanks for Secy. Kerry’s negotiating effort. He asked the Administration to support the May 30 French-organized Middle East peace conference. He urged the US to refrain from using its veto. He asked that the U.S. make reunification of families a priority. He also expressed thanks for the support from USAID for the East Jerusalem hospitals.
On Friday morning the delegation met at the State Department with Dr. Shaun Casey, Special Representative for Religion and Global Affairs (Office of the Secretary of State), his deputy, Ms. Rachel Leslie, Advisor for Public Diplomacy and Outreach, Office of Religion and Global Affairs, Stephen Butler, Depty. Director of the office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs, and Dr. Michael D. Yaffe, Senior Advisor in the office of the special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations. The delegation shared a copy of the letter to the President and the final Atlanta document.
Patriarch Twal expressed concern that the “status quo” will mean more violence and therefore there is a need to create a new status quo. Bishop Younan expressed appreciation for the interaction with Dr. Casey in recent years. He said the churches’ relationships with the US Consul General in Jerusalem and Amb. Shapiro in Tel Aviv are good and “very meaningful”. He said that the Summit, of course, was remarkable and outstanding, especially since both mainline and evangelical US churches attended. He hopes for a more unified strategy among Palestinian and US churches concerning the conflict.
Bishop Younan reiterated his wish that the US give priority to consulting with the Palestinian church leaders. He would like the US to strengthen the voice of the moderates (these churches) as well as similar Muslim and Jewish voices. He expressed frustration that the Israel-Palestine issue appears to be “on the back burner”, whereas, if it were solved, it could help solve some of the other issues such as those in Syria and Iraq. He also expressed thanks for the support from USAID in the health sector but asked that they help with education as well since the churches’ aim is to uphold human dignity for all.