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Pray for Israeli-Palestinian peace

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (BP)–Two Southern Baptist scholars say Christians should pray for peace between Israelis and Palestinians while at the same time maintaining a realistic outlook with terrorism rampant in the region.

The comments from Russell D. Moore and Daniel R. Heimbach came as leaders of Israel and the Palestinians completed a one-day conference Nov. 27 alongside 40 other nations in Annapolis, Md. During the conference it was announced Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had agreed to begin negotiating Dec. 12 on a peace deal, with the goal of finishing it by the end of President Bush’s final term. The conference included 16 representatives from the 22-member Arab League — including Syria and Saudi Arabia — which political observers said was a feat in itself.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will do much of the heavy lifting in negotiations during the coming months, the White House said.

“All Christians should pray for peace in the Middle East, so that our brothers and sisters in Christ may carry out the mission of the church in freedom and tranquility and so that Israelis and Palestinians, created in the image of God, may live peacefully,” said Moore, dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. “At the same time, we must be alert enough to know that even the most tentative peace will not come until terrorist organizations are stopped by the people they claim to represent.”

Moore added, “These preliminary steps toward dialogue ought to remind our churches to pray for a cessation of hostilities in the Middle East, for an end to anti-Semitism and terror, and for the glorious unveiling of the true King of Palestine and the whole universe, Jesus of Nazareth.”

Heimbach, who worked in the first Bush administration and currently is professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., offered a similar analysis.

“While American Christians should certainly pray for a major breakthrough making it possible for Israeli Jews and Palestinians to live peacefully side-by-side, we must not fail to understand the seriousness of what keeps Israel divided from the Islamic world,” he said. “Naïve optimism will more likely render a worse situation, thus hard as it may be, any real advance can only be achieved by honestly addressing persistent aspects of Islamic thought that make peace negotiations with Israel so intransigent.”

In fact, the day that Abbas was giving his conference speech about peace, thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip — some estimates put the crowd at nearly 100,000 — were protesting Abbas’ participation, chanting, “death to Israel, death to America” and calling him a “traitor,” Reuters reported. Hamas, which won the legislative elections last year, led the protest.

Heimbach said what he calls the “Islamic mindset” will make any real peace difficult to achieve.

“[T]he Islamic mind defines peace differently than Western negotiators,” he said. “Western negotiators view ‘peace’ as cessation of violence, whereas the ‘peace’ of Al-Islam is nothing short of submission to Islamic religious-political rule. For true Islamic thinkers there can be no real ‘peace’ until territory is conquered by Islamic religious-political power. In their view, only nations ruled by Islam have ‘peace’ and all other territory is the territory of ‘war.’ Thus for Islamic negotiators, agreeing to an independent state of Israel is tantamount to rejecting what they consider ‘peace’ of Al-Islam.”

Additionally, Heimbach said, under Islamic thinking, “once a region comes under Islamic religious-political rule,” it is “forever irreversible.” The Islamic Ottoman Empire once controlled the land.

“Thus for Islamic negotiators, accepting Israel’s right to exist is tantamount to legitimizing Infidel occupation of eternally Islamic territory,” he said.

Abbas and other Muslim leaders publicly expressed a desire to reach an agreement with Israel.

“I am not making an overstatement, Mr. President, if I say that our region stands at a crossroad that separates two historical phases, pre-Annapolis phase and post-Annapolis phase,” Abbas said during his speech. “And on this day we stretch our hands to you as equal partners in peace. The whole world is our witness and the world as a whole is supporting us. Therefore, we should not lose this opportunity which might not be available once again.”

Said Olmert, during his speech, “We want peace. We demand an end to terror, an end to incitement and to hatred. We are prepared to make a painful compromise, rife with risks, in order to realize these aspirations. I came here today not in order to settle historical accounts between us and you about what caused the confrontations and the hatred, and what for many years has prevented a compromise, a settlement of peace.”

Among the most contentious issues yet to be decided during peace talks are: the borders of a Palestinian state, whether and how to divide Jerusalem, and the status of Palestinian refugees who had homes in Israel but fled or were forced to leave.

“Today,” Bush said, “Palestinians and Israelis each understand that helping the other to realize their aspirations is key to realizing their own aspirations — and both require an independent, democratic, viable Palestinian state. Such a state will provide Palestinians with the chance to lead lives of freedom and purpose and dignity. Such a state will help provide the Israelis with something they have been seeking for generations: to live in peace with their neighbors.”

Olmert and Abbas reached agreement on a joint statement that was read by Bush at the meeting. The two sides reportedly had been working on the statement for weeks but didn’t agree on the details until the morning of the conference.

“We express our determination to bring an end to bloodshed, suffering and decades of conflict between our peoples; to usher in a new era of peace, based on freedom, security, justice, dignity, respect and mutual recognition; to propagate a culture of peace and nonviolence; to confront terrorism and incitement, whether committed by Palestinians or Israelis,” the statement read in part. “In furtherance of the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, we agree to immediately launch good-faith bilateral negotiations in order to conclude a peace treaty, resolving all outstanding issues, including all core issues without exception, as specified in previous agreements. We agree to engage in vigorous, ongoing and continuous negotiations, and shall make every effort to conclude an agreement before the end of 2008.”
Michael Foust is assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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