JERUSALEM, July 25 (RNS)--Hours earlier, they had met in a joint prayerfor peace--a few dozen Jews, Muslims, and Christians invoking God'sname together with a group of visiting Japanese Shinto priests.

But by Tuesday afternoon, it became clear those prayerswouldn't be answered any time soon as news of the breakdown in theIsraeli-Palestinian summit negotiations at Camp David filtered throughthe Holy City.

The summit's breakdown brought sighs of relief, and even joy, fromreligious extremists on both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli divide.But it triggered sorrow and dismay among those religious leaders whohave worked diligently for years to promote inter-religious dialogue.

"I feel very bad, to be honest," said Mohammed Hourani, a Muslimtheologian and interfaith activist. Only a few hours earlier, Houraniand a group of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim interfaith activists hadparticipated in a joint worship service conducted by the OomotoFoundation, a monotheistic branch of Shintoism.

In an elaborate Oriental ceremony, a dozen Japanese priests,together with a Jewish rabbi, a Muslim sheikh, and a Christianminister, had placed offerings of fruits and plants on a common altaroverlooking Jerusalem's Old City holy sites, and offered prayers forpeace in Hebrew, Arabic, and Japanese.

"Here only today, we had succeeded to come together to pay a kind ofrespect to our heritage and respective religions," observed Hourani.

Jerusalem is a unique setting for that--a place where Muslims,Christians, and Jews can come together along with peoples from the worldover. It is a place that inspires feelings and hope in all mankind.

"But maybe people are not ready yet to accept the changes that weare looking for in our inter-religious encounters. The results we haveobtained in Camp David must push us to continue working together evenmore intensively so that others may be convinced that it is possible toshare our Abrahamic legacy," Hourani said.

The conflicting Jewish, Muslim, and Christian claims to Jerusalemwere among the thorniest issues the Camp David summit negotiatorsconfronted. Some observers, like the Rev. Charles Kopp, an evangelicalChristian minister, saw in the dispute the fulfillment of the biblicalprophecy of Zechariah, which says "Jerusalem will be a heavy stoneburdening the world."

"It seems almost as if the positions are getting more adamant andhard-line," he said. "When Yasser Arafat stated that he had to get theagreement of the entire Muslim world on a Jerusalem settlement, then youcould see that the stakes were getting higher and higher."

Ironically, the region's leading religious figures largely took onthe role of observers during the negotiations on the future of the HolyCity and its religious sites--taking a back seat to the politicians.And when religious leaders did issue statements, the positions theyexpressed were critical and defensive--rather than positiveinitiatives that might help forge a breakthrough.

"I'm afraid that religion in this part of the world is not veryprophetic," said Rabbi David Rosen, head of the Israel office of theAnti-Defamation League and a prominent figure in inter-religiousdialogue.

"Religious leaders in this region are essentially clerical, moreoften than not controlled by political interests. Religion has notspearheaded the peace process. It has more often been in conflict withit. And when religious leaders have supported peace efforts, they havegenerally been the followers, rather than the leaders. That is thelamentable reality," he said.

When peace talks crashed to the ground, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, theailing spiritual leader of the militant Islamic Hamas organization, wasamong the first to declare: "It was to be expected. The Palestiniansshould have never entered into the process."

On the Israeli side, the breakdown in talks prompted Shaul Yahalom,a leader of religious Jewish settlers, to exclaim, "Blessed be God. Ifthe negotiations had succeeded, Jerusalem would have been divided andthe Jewish people would have been broken."

While the Vatican and the leading Christian churches of the regionhad been more supportive of the talks in principle, there, too,parochial concerns often overshadowed the broader issue of thenegotiations' success or failure.

In a July 17 letter to the summit participants, Greek OrthodoxPatriarch Diodoros I, Catholic Patriarch Michel Sabbah, and ArmenianPatriarch Torkom Manoogian II called the summit a "prophetic mission ofending the long and painful conflict in our region."

But the statement by the three patriarchs--later echoed by theVatican--went on to sharply criticize a proposal under discussion atthe time whereby Palestinians would have obtained control overJerusalem's Old City Muslim and Christian quarters while Israel retainedthe Armenian and Jewish quarters.

"Those same religious institutions that were so concerned about therepercussions of success should now be concerned about the repercussionsof failure," said Rosen. "Those same international religiousinstitutions that have been making various demands and expressingvarious expectations should now exercise their moral voice on behalf ofrestraint and reconciliation."

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