It wasn't on the itinerary when I got on the plane on Sunday to come to Israel for my first time. Mufti Sheikh Mohammed Hussein is the most important religious leader to the Palestinian people and today he and I met. We sat in his small office adjacent to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome Of The Rock, two of the most important landmarks for Muslims and a holy location for the Jewish people as the site of the first temple. We drank orange juice and Turkish coffee and spoke for 90 minutes past our scheduled end time for our meeting. From what I could tell, he was a good, sweet man who wants peace.
The meeting with the Mufti was such a great opportunity that I had to miss what was to be the most important scheduled meeting of our trip. As I went to the Mosque, Rabbi Marc Schneier, my partner in the Foundation For Ethnic Understanding (FFEU), headed up to Haifa where he held a historic meeting with 10 prominent rabbis and 10 prominent imams. The purpose of the meeting in Haifa was to kick off our series of "twinning" programs in Israel. We have implemented these programs in close to 30 countries with over 300 partnerships. We recognize that the greatest hindrance to this powerful process, which is rapidly growing around the world, is the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. And we know that the "holy grail" of our twinning programs is figuratively and literally in this land. Our mission is to lay the groundwork for creating the trust that will lead to co-existence when peace comes for the Muslims and Jews.
As the first two days of our trip developed, we recognized the importance of meeting with the most powerful Palestinian religious leader, as I had already met with Israel's Chief Rabbi. We never intended to take on the political agenda of the peace-process, but after meeting with Sheikh Mohammad, I realized that these two leaders could broker the peace and become heroes. So, their exchanges take on a whole different meaning.
My meeting with the Mufti was very productive, although during certain moments the conversation was tense, we both focused on a positive outcome for both the Jewish and the Palestinian people. He showed a deep compassion for all people, regardless of their religious preference, and wants peace as much as anyone else. I promised him that we would continue talking, with my dream of him one day sitting down with the Chief Rabbi of Israel...and hopefully leading to a major breakthrough in the conflict. It seems like a simple request, but I understand it will take time. He could not grant me our request when we met, for there are serious political implications for every move he makes, as there are for the Rabbi as well. Although we don't have firm commitments, I feel like we have planted some seeds.
I will continue to pursue our goals, as I truly believe that in this region we will need major religious leaders to take critical roles in the promotion of a more compassionate and tolerant solution. Until then, our work continues...
Tomorrow I will be speaking at Israeli President Shimon Peres' conference, and I will challenge those in attendance to join us in our mission.