New York, 19 July 2017 – The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) organized a panel discussion on “The Role of Religious Leaders in Peacebuilding in the Middle East” at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on 18 July 2017.
The United Nations Secretary General, Mr. António Guterres said during his opening remarks that “Sustainable peace requires not only political will from all sides, but also the collective efforts of the international community, civil society and fundamentally, religious leaders.” Mr. Guterres reiterated that the two-state solution is the only path to ensure that Palestinians and Israelis live in peace, security and dignity, adding that the expansion of illegal settlements, and the violence or the incitement undermine this prospect.
UNAOC is one of the United Nations’ leading entities promoting interfaith and intercultural dialogue, with more than 30 events involving religious leaders organized or co-sponsored by UNAOC since 2013, with the goal of creating a global platform for dialogue among those essential actors.
“We recognized that peace cannot be attained through the endeavors of politicians alone,” UNAOC High Representative said. “We firmly believe that Religion is not the source of the problem. On the contrary, religion can be part of the solution […] Religious leaders can and should play a role in peacebuilding in the Middle East.”
Spain, which launched the initiative last November in Alicante, was represented by its Minister of Foreign Affairs, H.E. Mr. Alfonso María Dastis. “We need to recover, with firm determination, the spirit of dialogue and cooperation,” Mr. Dastis said. “This is the only way to break the deadlocks in the grievous conflicts in the Middle East.”
The panel discussion featured religious leaders representing the three monotheistic religions of the Holy Land – Muslim, Jewish, and Christian. It included Sheikh Imad Al-Falouji, Chairman of the Adam Center for Dialogue of Civilizations in Gaza; Rabbi Michael Melchior, Community Rabbi in Jerusalem and President of the Mosaica Religious Peace Initiative; and Patriarch Theopilos III of the Greek Orthodox Church.
“When you are confident in your faith, you know that in God’s world there is a place for the other,” Rabbi Michael Melchior told participants. Other participating religious leaders discussed concrete actions to foster their contribution to tolerance, mutual understanding, and the prevention of extremist ideology. They emphasized that their religions are all rooted in peace, and that religious leaders need to work together to create a counter-narrative against extremist ideologies, to summon their communities to live in peace side by side in the Holy Land, and to infuse a spirit of peace in youth and new generations.
The panel discussion served as a follow-up to the November 2016 Summit of Religious Leaders for Peace in the Middle East, held in Alicante, Spain – an initiative facilitated by the Spanish Government and sponsored by UNAOC. The Summit resulted in the adoption of the Alicante Declaration, which aims to promote the contribution of civil society to peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
The event was covered live on social media with #Religions4Peace as the primary hashtag, generating a total reach of 8.3 million plus 12.4 million impressions on twitter. With sustained social media engagement, the hashtag was the second top trending topic in New York.
Mr. Al Nasser concluded the meeting by reiterating the commitment of UNAOC and the United Nations as a whole to strengthen dialogue among religious leaders and to encourage their contribution to peacebuilding. For more information and to watch the full event, visit: https://www.unaoc.org/2017/07/the-role-of-religious-leaders-in-peacebuilding-in-the-middle-east/