Justin Welby says there’s an ‘opportunity’ for peace as he meets Israeli leaders

Archbishop Justin Welby has spoken of a “moment of opportunity” for peace during meetings with Israeli political leaders today.

In a meeting with the Israeli President Reuven Rivlin Archbishop Welby said: “It does seem, listening to many, that internationally perhaps the planets are aligning. Perhaps there is a moment of opportunity coming that may not repeat itself for a while.”

Rev Welby, who described himself as a “profound friend of Israel” went on to suggest that the US President could “surprise” the world and broker a deal when he visits the region later this month.

“President Trump is coming…There are many surprises in this world at the moment. Perhaps there might be a surprise which would be of unqualified joy to the whole world that would unravel so many issues if there could be progress in dealing with the tragedy that has been here so long.”

Speaking in Jerusalem this morning, Justin Welby said the position of Christians in the Holy Land is “always one seeking peace”. Describing Christians here as a “weak minority” he said there was an “urgent need” to find peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

“There cannot be peace without every person in the region being sure that they can pursue their lives and aims without fearing the bomb or the bullet, without fearing persecution. Recognised as being validly and legitimately where they are…That is the prayer we have for this time.”

After welcoming the Archbishop to Israel, President Rivlin said, “Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the Christian community is flourishing, thank God. Israel is committed to the values of freedom of religion for all people of faith.”

Speaking about the long running conflict, President Rivlin told the Archbishop that he was committed to restoring trust on both sides.

“We must not allow voices which teach hatred, or call for boycotts to divide the peoples. We must find ways, to bring people together.”

In a reference to the Turkish Prime Minister words last night that Jerusalem was “under occupation” by Israel, Rivlin stated: “We have heard voices which attack Israel for building Jewish life in Jerusalem. I must tell these people, for the last 150 years there has been a Jewish majority in Jerusalem…Thank God, under Israeli sovereignty we continue to build Jerusalem the eternal capital of the Jewish People.”

The President also said Jerusalem is a “microcosm” of Jews and Arabs’ “ability to live together”.

In thanking the Archbishop for visiting Israel, Rivlin said “I hope many more in your community, will follow your example, and come and visit Israel, not just to see the Holy Land, but to meets its people. To see for themselves everything we have achieved here.”

According to sources close to the Archbishop, Justin Welby also used the phrase “moment of opportunity” when speaking to the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier today.

During the hour long meeting behind closed doors which was described as “cordial and clear”, Justin Welby expressed gratitude for the government’s efforts to protect the freedom of Christians in Israel.

Welby also met with the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas last night, where he raised the plight of Christians and warned of the dangers of extremism.  

Justin Welby has described his 12 day trip, which draws to a close on Friday, as a “pastoral pilgrimage”. Tomorrow he will visit the West Bank city of Hebron and meet with Palestinian leaders. 

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