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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Trump's Jerusalem embassy move a 'setback to international security', Abu Dhabi peace forum hears

Event told of alarm at provocative decision

Donald Trump's decision to move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was the focus of the opening day of a peace forum in Abu Dhabi on Monday, as scholars and ministers decried the plan as provocative and a "setback to international security".

The Peace Forum for Muslim Societies heard concerns that the decision will have a lasting, negative effect on the peace process.

"[The prospect of] Jerusalem as a capital for the Israeli occupation was rejected by the whole world,” said Dr Abbas Shouman, deputy of Al Azhar, the centre of learning and Islamic authority.

“And such actions do not call for peace,” he said during opening his remarks to delegates.

Dr Lukman Saifuddin, the Indonesian minister of religious affairs, said that "Trump has provoked the world with this step, which will draw a setback on international security".

“We religious scholars and elders now have an additional responsibility, we have to be firefighters in the Islamic community, to try and put down conflict, and to respond to the attacks on Islam and Muslims," he said.

“There are many Muslims who are still being discriminated against."

Dr Hisham Hellyer, non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said he did not agree that the embassy would “spur on other terrorist acts".

“Because I don’t think that terrorists are waiting for Trump to announce… it certainly strengthens their narrative, but I don’t think they are waiting for that," he said.

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But he said the news puts an end to the false hope that the peace process was doing anything to serve the Palestinians, and any suggestion that the United States is an 'honest broker'.

“When was the peace process delivering anything for the Palestinians?” he said.

The event on Monday also heard from Pastor Bob Roberts, a prominent American Christian evangelical leader, who was in Bethlehem when protesters clashed with Israel security forces at the weekend.

He said he was appalled by the embassy move, and that Muslims and Palestinian Christians alike will suffer.

“My heart is very heavy. I come straight from Bethlehem, I was there with a small evangelical group when the announcement was made.

“My wife and I were tear gassed… and as we were running to our rooms, one lady whose husband runs a church for around fifty people was weeping and said: ‘God, I pray for the Palestinian people that there will be justice and mercy’.”

“So we must pray for the whole world not just Muslims and Christians."

Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah, president of the forum, stressed on the need for “intellectuals and wise individuals” from all faiths “to bring their efforts together to tackle the problems that this world is facing.”

An example of such, he said, is the American Peace Caravan, which was initiated by the forum last year and brought together a rabbi, priest and an imam.

They travel together and hold three-day workshops that demonstrate how they co-exist, and enlighten one another about each other’s faiths.

These workshops are attended by members of the three faiths, so attendees can replicate that experience back home.

The caravan kicked off in Abu Dhabi last spring, and moved to Rabat in Morocco. It has also covered a number of cities in the US including Dallas and Detroit. The ultimate goal is to cover 50 cities in the states where the three communities co-exist, to teach everyday people how to come together and not just for the clerics to be friends.

Pastor Roberts, who is also a member of the caravan, has brought Muslims to his church in Texas to break what he said was a 'wall of fear' between some from those faiths.

In the beginning, he said, some strongly disagreed and some churchgoers were driven away.

“I said we have to bring love," he told the Abu Dhabi audience.

But today many support the welcoming of Muslims to their church, including many young believers.

"Now it is being filled with young millennials," he said.

“We have to bypass governments, we need to go straight to the people,” he added.

“We got halal meat and barbecued it, halal style, and we have hundreds of Muslims coming to our church and we hold big events together.

“I will tell you this, Muslims: I love you and I will always be there for you."

The peace forum, at the St Regis on the Corniche, continues on Tuesday.

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