In an exclusive TJ interview, the Archbishop of Canterbury discussed hopes for next week’s Maryland peace talks and why Israel will eventually need to speak to Hamas.
The wide-ranging conversation, which covered issues of domestic and international interest, came just two weeks after Dr Rowan Williams returned from Jerusalem where he took part in the second in a series of annual meetings with Israel’s two Chief Rabbis.
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The leader of the Anglican Church said one of the issues he’s like to see on the agenda going forward is that of settlements, over which he confessed to some “continuing head scratching. “I think for many of us outside Israel we can see why the Israeli government feels the obligation to defend the settlements once they’re there,” he said. “It’s a lot harder to see what the rationale is of the continuing rolling programme so to speak at a time when it does seem like intensifying tensions.”
He said he thought it is “very difficult to deal with a group that simply denies your right to exist at all”, when asked whether he felt Israel and the world should be willing to deal with Hamas. “At some point of course most states find they have to deal with people they would rather not be talking to.” If he was in the Israeli government, he said when pressed further , he’d be saying “in a 15-year framework where do I want to get to, what conversations do I have to start now even if they’re off record, off limit conversations.” Turning his attention to the domestic issues, he said he didn’t believe David Irving and Nick Griffin should have been invited to speak at the Oxford Union next week. “Having been invited, I’d be very wary of anything that makes them look like martyrs thats raises free speech questions.
But free speech in general is one thing, deliberately giving somebody a platform for views that are generally judged intolerable is another and I really wish that this hadn’t happened,” Dr Williams said. He said that those who didn’t want it to happen should state as clearly, frequently and publicly “as they can why these views should not be given the dignity of being taken seriously”.
Meanwhile, one of the issues discussed between the Archbishop and the Chief Rabbis in Jerusalem last month concern to ensure that texts and images circulated in religious communities about other communities are just. “If there are these distorting texts around then they need to be challenged,” said the Archbishop. “I would hope that religious leadership could agree that this won’t do, that people must to be allowed to speak for themselves. Christians have done it to Jews and Muslims in the past.”
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