Despite Israel’s objections to the Fatah-Hamas unity agreement, the government 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.
Although arrangements were made in advance, it was not certain till Thursday afternoon that Peres would receive the necessary approval.
Peres will head an interfaith delegation and will call upon leaders of all faiths to work together to ensure that religion and God will not be invoked to justify bloodshed and terrorism. The president will emphasize the importance of interreligious dialogue.
The Israeli delegation, which was assembled with the assistance of the Chief Rabbinate, will include Rabbi Dr. Rasson Arussi of the Chief Rabbinate Council; Rabbi Daniel Sperber, a professor of Talmud at Bar-Ilan University; Rabbi David Rosen, the Jerusalem- based international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee; Sheikh Moafaq Tarif, the spiritual leader of the Druse faith in Israel; and Sheikh Muhammad Kiwan, head of the Union of Imams in Israel.
The Palestinian delegation is expected to include a delegation consisting of Islamic and Christian leaders.
The pope has invited Christian Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople to participate in the prayer for peace.
Of the members of the delegation accompanying Peres, Rosen is the most familiar with the Vatican and with the history of Catholic-Jewish relations. He has frequently spoken and written on the subject, and 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 Catholic-Jewish dialogue, Rosen 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.
On Friday, Peres spoke with the newly elected president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and congratulated him on winning the vote.
Peres assured Sisi of Israel’s commitment to maintaining the peace treaty and to strengthening cooperation.
He voiced his wishes for prosperity and success for the Egyptian people and expressed the hope that Sisi will lead Egypt to great achievements.
At the Vatican on Sunday, Peres will urge religious leaders to work toward peace, and to speak out against terrorism.
Peres has made it clear that when he completes his seven- year term on July 26, he will continue his efforts to bring peace to the region, based at the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa.