This week, President Bush announced that a new conference would bring together Palestinian and Israeli leaders to discuss a peace strategy for the region. Bush even pledged to give $190 million in new aid to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ government. The U.S. president took the action after years of a bitter (and sometimes violent) standoff between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. The White House’s vision for the region depends on Palestine’s ability to choose between the directions of the radical Islamist militant group Hamas and President Abbas’ more moderate plan for the country. In a White House speech, Bush said, “This is a moment of clarity for all Palestinians. Now comes a moment of choice. The alternatives before the Palestinian people are stark.” The meeting is scheduled for later this year.
Another meeting to discuss peace in the Middle East and relations between Israel and Palestine took place earlier this month, but seemed largely to fly under the mainstream media’s radar. The “closed door” meeting at the Egyptian embassy saw two unlikely groups come together in what one high-profile evangelical leader who was in attendance called “historic.” Organized by televangelist Benny Hinn, the gathering included (among others) TBN founder Paul Crouch Sr., 700 Club co-host Gordon Robertson (son of Pat Robertson), German preacher Vernon Brewer, former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed and Rev. Jonathan Falwell (son of the late Jerry Falwell). The group of evangelicals met with ambassadors from Muslim nations including Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Kuwait, Yemen, Iraq, Bahrain, Jordan and Egypt to discuss how Christians and Muslims could meet on certain issues. The luncheon was kept a top-secret affair.
High on the agenda were talks about evangelical support for Israel and how it affects relations with nearby countries. According to a Washington Times report, “Whereas the Americans wanted to discuss the lack of religious freedom in Muslim countries, the ambassadors wanted to know whether Christians could become more ‘balanced’ in their support of Israel.” Falwell wrote in his WordNetDaily.com column, “One of the ambassadors mentioned that American Christians seemed always to favor Israel in all situations, even when Israel was wrong … The Egyptian ambassador [Nabil Fahmy] began by graciously saying that we should not worry about diplomacy at this meeting. He went on to emphasize that we should have an open, honest conversation about what is necessary for bridges to be built between Islam and American Christians.”
According to others at the meeting, the leaders wanted to gauge how the next generation of Christians and Muslims would respond to world issues in the coming years. National Association of Evangelicals official Richard Cizik, who was also at the meeting, told The Washington Post, “They were assessing the next generation. The meeting was reflective of the generational changes that are happening, and everyone knew it.”
Examining how an up-and-coming generation of religious leaders will react to world affairs becomes increasingly important as multi-national relations continue to stir significant events around the world. A recent USA Today cover story looked at how many young Americans are embracing faith to an even greater fervor than their parents’ generation. And it’s these young Americans whose religious zeal may well determine the nation’s continued role in the affairs of the international community.