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Church Leaders Receive Mideast Peace Advice from Jordan's King
By Jim Wetekam*
April 23, 2002, Amman, Jordan - A brief day in Jordan culminated in a fascinating meeting between His Majesty King Abdullah II and a delegation of fourteen U.S. church leaders. The delegation, sponsored by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., had previously visited leaders in Turkey, Lebanon and Syria. Just prior to the meeting at the Royal Palace in Amman, Jordan, the group had engaged in a discussion with Christian leaders of Amman, and shortly after its meeting with the King, the delegation departed for Palestine and Israel.
King Abdullah spent much of the time speaking about his desire to ensure a brighter future for Christianity in the Middle East. He noted that the number of Arab Christians in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the region had been diminishing, and that it was necessary to reverse this unfortunate trend. "Jordan," he said, "has been a prime example of Christians and Muslims living in unity." He pledged himself to be helpful in aiding the efforts of Christians from East and West to determine strategies to assist the vitality of Arab Christianity.
The King also spoke frankly about the needs of the region now. Describing what is known about current devastation in areas of the West Bank, King Abdullah said aid was getting into many areas now but not always arriving where it was most needed as quickly as he would like. "The message needs to go out that there is a humanitarian crisis unfolding," he concluded.
Of his own efforts for peace, King Abdullah mentioned the special role of Jordan, one of a handful of Arab nations with diplomatic relations with Israel. "What we're trying to achieve as friends of Israel is the integration of Israel into the region." However, the King noted that the present Israeli government was very shortsighted and "unless you have a Palestinian state, you're never going to get there."
Addressing the subject of the explosion of violence and rage in the region and how to move toward a means of international monitoring or peacekeeping in Palestine and Israel as a solution, the King was straightforward: "It comes down to the United States." He stated that international monitoring/peacekeeping was necessary but would only become reality if the U.S. were to make it a priority and support an entity capable of accomplishing that mission.
Many ordinary Arabs now view the inability of the U.S. to stand up to Israel as a diminishment of "America's integrity." Further, the King said, "[Palestinian] anger and frustration toward the United States is beginning to exceed that toward Israel." However, he thought that Palestinian frustration could be answered by the U.S. Administration and President Bush himself re-asserting his role. "The Prime Minister of Israel is only going to listen to the leader of the free world at the end of the day."
As the meeting concluded, the King addressed the church leaders' role directly: "Don't underestimate the strength of what you can bring for peace." In final good-byes, he agreed to try to meet with those who work on policy matters related to the Middle East when he is in Washington next month.
*Jim Wetekam, Media Program Director for Churches for Middle East Peace, is a member of the NCC delegation.
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