x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Abdullah addresses interfaith meeting

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and Shimon Peres, the president of Israel, spoke against war and bloodshed from the same stage during an inter-faith meeting.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah addresses a packed General Assembly hall at the United Nations headquarters.
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah addresses a packed General Assembly hall at the United Nations headquarters.

NEW YORK // Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and Shimon Peres, the president of Israel, spoke against war and bloodshed from the same stage yesterday during an inter-religious meeting at United Nations headquarters. The initiative of the Saudi monarch saw heads of state and government from dozens of countries travel to midtown Manhattan to share the cultural and religious wisdom of their nations in pursuit of global peace and prosperity. But all eyes were on King Abdullah and Mr Peres, watching to see whether the rare appearance of the two Middle East leaders in the same building at the same time would generate a handshake or a word between them. During his speech, King Abdullah drew from the Quran's wisdom to explain how mankind can choose between "peace and harmony or... inevitably be consumed by the flames of misunderstanding, malice and hatred". "Throughout history, preoccupation with differences between the followers of religions and cultures has engendered intolerance, causing devastating wars and considerable bloodshed without any sound logical or ideological justification," King Abdullah told a packed General Assembly hall. "It is high time for us to learn from the harsh lessons of the past and concur on the ethics and ideals in which we all believe." The Israeli leader was explicit in calling for peace between his countrymen and their Arab neighbours, praising King Abdullah's interfaith project and placing renewed emphasis on the peace initiative proposed by the Saudi statesman in 2002. Describing the wars fought between Jews and Arabs, Mr Peres told delegates: "We confronted one another, abandoning faith for greed and forging swords instead of peace. They tore apart the land and increased hostility, resulting in a region of barriers and walls that rose higher, destroying any bridges that may have been built." The Israeli leader spoke of "hundreds of thousands of men and women from all sides" losing their lives, while many others were injured or "lost their homes and became refugees". "Fortunes were wasted on the purchase, maintenance and replacement of new weapons that inevitably became obsolete - resources were spent on sustaining hostility instead of advancing life," said Mr Peres. "We cannot change the past. However, we can shape our future. This seems more feasible today in light of the Saudi proposal which evolved into an Arab peace initiative. The initiative's portrayal of our region's future provides hope to the people and inspires confidence in the nations." During a press conference in advance of the two-day cross-faith summit, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, spoke of the "quite unique" presence of a Saudi and Israeli leader speaking together at the same conference. "Normally, in the past, they have not been sitting in the same place like this," Mr Ban said. "That is very important and positive and encouraging." A dinner hosted by the world's top diplomats on Tuesday night saw the two Middle Eastern leaders, among a host of other Arab politicians, under the same roof, but sitting at separate tables. Diplomatic sources indicated that Israeli and Saudi sources had pre-arranged their conduct so there would be no surprises during this week's meeting. The rumoured agreement was that King Abdullah and Mr Peres would not go as far as to shake hands, but their delegations would also not stand up and walk out when the other was addressing the assembly - a diplomatic faux pas that has tarnished previous summits. The two-day event has garnered substantial international support, attracting a bevy of statesmen, including George W Bush, the US president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the president of the Philippines, and Gordon Brown, Britain's prime minister. Muslim nations threw their support behind the project, with heads of state from Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan, Pakistan, Lebanon attending along with high-level delegations from Qatar, Morocco, Djibouti, Egypt, Oman and Yemen. The UAE delegation features Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammed, the Ruler of Fujairah, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Reem Ibrahim al Hashimi, Minister of State. Seeking to ease tensions often created by political and religious identities, King Abdullah has spearheaded a solo interfaith enterprise, meeting Pope Benedict in the Vatican last year and arranging for multi-faith leaders to go to Madrid, and Sunni and Shia clerics to go to Mecca earlier this year. The monarch's meeting - called the Culture of Peace - is technically being hosted by Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, the president of the UN General Assembly and a Nicaraguan priest. jreinl@thenational.ae