Pope Benedict has given Jews and Catholics throughout the world every reason to believe that if you can’t trust the Pope to keep an agreement then who can you trust?
The Pope on two separate occasions during his visit to the Holyland this week has seen fit to plunge into the world of Middle East politics using the long established tradition of saying one thing to the Jews and something very different to the Arabs.
On his arrival in Israel he declared:
“I plead with all those responsible to explore every possible avenue in the search for a just resolution of the outstanding difficulties, so that both peoples may live in peace in a homeland of their own, within secure and internationally recognized borders.”
His Jewish hosts would have welcomed the Pope’s use of the term “homeland” with no definite opinion being expressed by His Holiness on another State needing to be created between Israel and Jordan.
The Jews would have been happy to hear the borders had to be both secure and internationally recognized. This would support Israel’s stance in previous negotiations that any new Arab State between Israel and Jordan could not be established in 100% of the West Bank. You could even say the Pope was seen to be endorsing United Nations Resolution 242 which prescribes the very same formula.
Speaking in the presence of PLO Chief and extant President of the Palestinian Authority - Mahmoud Abbas - the Pope had changed his tune just two days later:“Mr President, the Holy See supports the right of your people to a sovereign Palestinian homeland in the land of your forefathers, secure and at peace with its neighbors, within internationally recognized borders,”
Gone were the secure borders. The homeland was to be sovereign, secure and at peace with its neighbours. No mention was made of who those neighbours might be,
The Arabs could be excused for interpreting this pronouncement as the Papal endorsement of the destruction of Israel and its replacement with one Palestinian state secure and at peace with its neighbours Jordan and Egypt.
One can only wonder what made the Pope make two such utterly contradictory statements in the space of forty eight hours.
“Popespeak” had reached new heights in totally confusing what the Pope intended to convey. If his words of wisdom were meant to be ambiguous and evasive the Pope certainly achieved his objective. Contradictory statements like these however don’t advance the peace process but only heighten and encourage the maintenance of different political stances adopted by the conflicting parties.
The real disappointment in the Pope’s remarks however came from the Pope’s cardinal breach of Clause 11(2) of the Agreement signed between Israel and the Holy See in 1993 which states:“The Holy See while maintaining in every case the right to exercise its moral and spiritual teaching-office, deems it opportune to recall that owing to its own character, it is solemnly committed to remaining a stranger to all merely temporal conflicts, which principle applies specifically to disputed territories and unsettled borders.”
There is no ambiguity in these clear and precise words.
The inexcusable breach of these terms by the Pope in both of his addresses signifies the ease with which agreements can be abandoned - even by one recognized as occupying a position among the most moral held by any human being.
The Pope had properly told both his Arab and Jewish hosts that his visit was intended as a pilgrimage. He may well have been able to inspire them had he stuck firmly to that agenda and not plunged headlong into a minefield that continues to claim as victims the most powerful politicians on this planet.
His attempt to play the base political game and emulate the long line of politicians who have traced the same path in the Middle East speaking with forked tongues was a disaster.
Any claim by the Pope to become an independent interlocutor of moral authority disappeared with his intemperate statements breaching the Vatican’s own well defined guidelines.
The prospects of achieving any sort of peace agreement between the Jews and Arabs has now become more distant than ever.
The Pope’s constant host at his side throughout the visit was the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem - Archbishop Fouad Twal, Perhaps some clarity and meaning to the Pope’s thinking can be gauged by a statement made by Archbishop Twal to Vatican Radio on 21 June 2008:“The majority of our priests, nuns, schools, families are in Jordan. We need to see a link to Jordan…”
Jordan indeed remains the key to solving the long running conflict between Jews and Arabs - be they Moslem or Christian
Until Jordan becomes fully engaged in any negotiations on the allocation of future sovereignty in the West Bank no possible prospects of meaningful progress can emerge.
Papal intrusion into politics is most unwise especially where the Pope in this case has made a specific commitment to remain detached from the current conflict.
In breaching rather than observing that commitment the Pope has failed the most basic of tests that human beings are asked to respect and observe - sticking to an agreement. His failure to do so is a matter of great regret.