The United Nations's General Assembly voted today to grant the Palestinian Authority the same membership status as the Vatican.
The vote, which changes Palestine's U.N. observer status from "entity" to "non-member observer," represents a unilateral Palestinian bid to become an internationally recognized sovereign state. Both the United States and Israel voted against the change, citing the need for bilateral efforts in order to achieve peace in the region.
According to the Associated Press, the upgrade was approved "by a vote of 138-9 with 41 abstentions."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated U.S. opposition to the bid. "I have said many times that the path to a two-state solution that fulfills the aspirations of the Palestinian people is through Jerusalem and Ramallah, not New York," she told reporters.
Palestinian Christian leaders overwhelmingly favored the U.N. decision, sending a strong message of support earlier this month in a statement signed by 100 leaders.
"We believe the Palestine Liberation Organization's initiative to enhance Palestine's status in the United Nations to an Observer State is a positive, collective, and moral step that will get us closer to freedom," the letter stated. "This is a step in the right direction for the cause of a just peace in the region. We fully endorse this bid."
Names of prominent historic Protestants and evangelicals–such as Bishara Awad, Mitri Raheb, Sami Awad, Jonathan Kuttab, Daoud Kuttab, and Naim Ateek–were absent from the statement. But Len Rodgers, director of Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding, explained to CT that evangelical leaders equally support the statehood bid, and their absence merely reflects the diversity of "the five families of churches" in the Middle East.
"The reason [these names] are missing has nothing to do with an overall shift in peacemaking strategy," he told CT. "The evangelical churches in the Middle East are at the most only about 2 percent of the entire 13 to 15 million Christian population in the lands of the Bible. Evangelicals are a diminutive part of the Christian scene, and any letter like the one from 100 Christian leaders in the Holy Land spotlights the majority church groups and not the more recently arrived evangelicals to the Middle East."
"This does not demean [evangelical leaders'] status or influence," he said. "It is simply a reality."
Protestants (mostly Anglicans, Lutherans, and Presbyterians) are the most recent addition to the region, which has long included the Oriental Orthodox, Byzantine Orthodox, Eastern-rite Catholic, and Assyrian churches.
"Many new independent and denominational groups have [now] joined this grouping of churches," said Rodgers. "The oldest evangelical denominations with roots in Europe and North America have only been around the Middle East for about 200 years. [Thus] the letter by 100 Christian leaders was understandably signed by the major patriarchs, archbishops, bishops and well known Christian civic leaders from the ancient churches in the Middle East."
CT has extensively reported on Palestine, Israel, and Middle East conflict, including UNESCO's recent vote to approve the Church of the Nativity as an endangered World Heritage site, a decision that had similar political overtones.
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