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West Bank rabbi and peace activist Menachem Froman dies

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Israeli Menachem Froman, the rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Tekoa,during an interview at his home in February 2006. Froman was convinced that a peace agreement can be reached with Hamas through mutual religious understanding.

An Israeli settler and Orthodox rabbi famous for his efforts to promote dialogue and peaceful coexistence among Arabs and Jews died on Monday. Rabbi Menachem Froman, 68, had been suffering a prolonged illness, his son Shiva Froman said.

Froman, a rabbi in the West Bank settlement of Tekoa, advocated for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue as early as the 1980s, when it was still illegal to be in contact with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Born in pre-state Israel in 1945, Froman had a extensive contacts in the military, arts, politics and religious circles. He became the spiritual leader for many young people, and a sought-after adviser to politicians, according to an obituary in Haaretz of Israel.

In recent years, Froman launched several religious peace organizations and held intensive talks with religious leaders from both Hamas and Israel’s Islamic Movement, out of a conviction that dialogue between spiritual leaders was the path to peace.

"For almost 40 years I have maintained that it is impossible to forge peace here without taking into account the religious element," he said in an interview with Haaretz in July.

That religious element, he said, "is very powerful in the Arab public and also stronger than what some readers of Haaretz would like to believe in the Jewish public."

Froman had ties to many Palestinian leaders and sometimes visited holy sites with Palestinian officials. He was a vocal opponent of attacks on mosques by Jewish settlers.

He also opposed removing Jewish settlers from the area, arguing that they have a biblical connection to the land, but said he would be willing to live in the West Bank under Palestinian rule.

When the militant Hamas came to official power through elections in the Gaza Strip in 2006, Froman stepped up his efforts to generate Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. Working with a journalist close to Hamas, he drafted a ceasefire agreement that would put an immediate end to Palestinian attacks on Israel, end the Israeli seige of Gaza, lift the punishing embargo of Gaza and lead to the release of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Senior Hamas officials endorsed the draft, but the Israeli government did not respond to the unofficial effort, effectively rejecting it.

As news of Froman’s death spread, a list of condolences began building on his Facebook page, offering a glimpse of the wide array of people who followed and admired the unconventional rabbi.

He is survived by his wife Hadassah, with whom he had 10 children.

His funeral is scheduled for Tuesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.