President Peres gets Prime Minister’s blessing to join Abbas & Pope for prayer at Vatican

Despite termination of peace-talks, Israel’s President will lead an interfaith delegation to Rome, where he will call upon leaders of all religions to work together towards inter-religious dialogue.


Despite Israel’s objections to the Palestinian unity government, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and members of the government, realizing the historic importance of the occasion, gave President Shimon Peres the green light to accept the invitation of Pope Francis and travel to the Vatican on Sunday for an interfaith prayer for peace in the Middle East.

Pope Francis meets President Shimon Peres – Photo: קובי גדעון/לע”מ

Although arrangements were made in advance, it was not certain until Thursday afternoon that Peres would receive the necessary approval.

When the invitation to Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was first issued by Pope Francis during his  visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority last month, and confirmed by the Vatican following the pope’s return to Rome, both Peres and Abbas  immediately accepted.

After all, it’s not exactly the proper thing to decline an invitation from a pope.  But there was still the matter of government approval, and had it not been given, all the elaborate plans would have collapsed like a house of cards.

Peres will head an interfaith delegation comprising rabbis, Druze leaders and imams and will call upon leaders of all faiths to work together to ensure that religion and the name of the Divine Creator will not be invoked as a means of justifying bloodshed and terror.

The president, who strongly believes that religious leaders have the power to influence peace, will emphasize the importance of inter-religious dialogue. The Israeli delegation, which was assembled with the assistance of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, will consist of faith leaders from across the country who will join Peres in conveying the message of peace.

The delegation will include Rabbi Dr. Rasson Arussi of the Chief Rabbinate Council; Rabbi Professor Daniel Sperber; Rabbi David Rosen; Sheikh Moafaq Tarif, the spiritual leader of the Druze faith in Israel; and Sheikh Mohammad Kiwan, the chairman of the Muslim community of Israel. The Palestinian delegation is also expected to include a faith delegation consisting of Islamic and Christian leaders.

The pope has also invited Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople who had specially come to Jerusalem to meet with him and will now meet with him and again in Rome to participate in the prayer for peace.

This is not the first time that Peres has been involved in an interfaith effort to bring about peace.

Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev has hosted a series of summit conferences on World and Traditional Religions to which he has invited leaders of a myriad of other faiths in addition to Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Peres was the guest of honor in 2009, but the Iranians walked out when he spoke, declaring that Peres was not a religious leader and that he represented the Zionist entity which they found to be abominable.

In the course of his address in Astana, Peres invited King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia who conceived the Arab peace initiative to meet with him in Jerusalem or Ryadh or any other place of his choosing to work together towards the advancement of peace between Israel and the Arab world.

On Friday, almost symbolically, given the significance of the date, Peres spoke with the newly elected President of Egypt Abdul Fattah al-Sisi and congratulated him on winning the election.

Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel, and despite a number of low points in relations between the two countries, the treaty has been maintained for just over 35 years.

Peres assured al-Sisi of Israel’s commitment to the maintaining of the peace treaty and to strengthening mutual cooperation. He voiced his sincere wishes for prosperity and success for the Egyptian people and expressed the hope that President al-Sisi will lead Egypt to great achievements.

At the Vatican on Sunday, Peres will not only urge religious leaders to work towards peace, but also to speak out against terror.

Of the members of the delegation accompanying Peres, the person most familiar with the Vatican and with the history of Catholic-Jewish relations is Rosen, the Jerusalem-based American Jewish Committee’s international director of interreligious affairs who has frequently spoken on the subject at forums around the world, who has written extensively on the subject in both Jewish and Catholic publications.

Rosen has paid many visits to the Vatican, meeting with high ranking Vatican officials as well as with a series of popes. In recognition of his contribution to the ongoing Catholic-Jewish dialogue, the rabbi was invested with a papal knighthood in 2005.  He was the first Israeli citizen and the first Orthodox rabbi to be given such an honor.

The Vatican peace summit has attracted worldwide media attention, with some commentators wondering what possible influence an outgoing president who is unlikely, due to advanced age, to be elected to any future office, can have on the peace process.

But Peres will remain Peres with or without an official title, yet with all his connections intact. He has already made it clear that when he moves his operations from the President’s compound in Jerusalem to the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa, he will continue with his efforts to bring peace to the region.

Elections for his successor take place this coming Tuesday, June10, and Peres will complete his seven year term on July 26.


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