[Published 27 December 2012]
Diplomatic relations between Israel and the Vatican are set to considerably cool following the Pope granting a private audience to Mahmoud Abbas on 17 December.
Their meeting came at a time of growing political crisis engendered by the passage of the UN General Assembly resolution on 29 November that reaffirmed
“the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence in their State of Palestine on the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967;"
The Pope seemingly overlooked any discussion of the implications of this integral part of the resolution that also recognised the State of Palestine as a non-member observer state in the General Assembly - a view confirmed by the following communique issued by the Vatican
“The cordial discussions made reference to the recent Resolution approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations by which Palestine was recognised as a Non-member Observer State of the aforementioned Organisation. It is hoped that this initiative will encourage the commitment of the international community to finding a fair and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which may be reached only by resuming the negotiations between the Parties, in good faith and according due respect to the rights of both.”
The Pope was apparently unaware that the only matter left to be negotiated between the parties as a result of “this initiative ” was the timing of the eviction of 600000 Jews currently living in this ” State of Palestine” as defined by the General Assembly.
Abbas had made this racist view very clear on 28 July 2010 when Wafa - the official Palestinian news agency - reported the following remark by Abbas in Cairo:
“I’m willing to agree to a third party that would supervise the agreement, such as Nato forces, but I would not agree to having Jews among the Nato forces, or that there will live among us even a single Israeli on Palestinian land.”
Could the Pope have failed to understand that the Resolution also left no room for negotiating the boundaries of this “State of Palestine” - that the General Assembly had preemptively determined that it should comprise 100% of the territory won from Jordan by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War?
Would cordial discussions have occurred had the Pope taken the opportunity to urge Abbas to recognise Israel as the Jewish National Home and offer Palestinian citizenship to those Jews who did not want to leave their current homes?
Resumption of negotiations by “the Parties in good faith and according due respect to the rights of both” in such circumstances is a pure pipe dream.
The Abbas audience was a papal faux pas for several reasons.
Firstly - the Pope should not have blessed the audience with overt political significance by accepting from Abbas the gift of a mosaic of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem bearing the inscription that it was presented to him by “the President of the State of Palestine” - a farcical nomenclature that had only been sanctioned that very day by the Chief of Protocol at the UN - Yeocheol Yoon.
Secondly - the Pope was clearly violating clause 11(2) of the 1993 Fundamental Agreement Between The Holy See And The State Of Israel which provides:
“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.”
Remaining a stranger to this temporal conflict would have allowed the Pope to escape any criticism as a result of this inappropriate audience.
Thirdly - Article 2.2 of the Fundamental Agreement further avers:
“The Holy See takes this occasion to reiterate its condemnation of hatred, persecution and all other manifestations of antisemitism directed against the Jewish people and individual Jews anywhere, at any time and by anyone”
Failing to condemn the “President of the State of Palestine” during the audience for his known manifestations of anti-semitism makes a mockery of the Fundamental Agreement.
Fourthly - The Pope’s political foray no doubt inspired his own appointed nominee as the top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land - the Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal - to also make a political statement in his annual pre-Christmas homily.
Archbishop Twal told his followers at his headquarters in Jerusalem’s Old City that this year’s festivities were doubly joyful, celebrating:
“the birth of Christ our Lord and the birth of the state of Palestine. The path (to statehood) remains long, and will require a united effort,”
Archbishop Twal - who was born in Jordan - had told Vatican Radio on 21 June 2008:
“The majority of our priests, nuns, schools families are in Jordan. We need a link to Jordan…,”
That link will certainly not come from the State of Palestine designated by the UN General Assembly - since its realisation is simply not going to eventuate.
Archbishop Twal also told www.custodia.org in an interview on 22 June 2008:
“If you want to touch Jews, Muslims, Christians, Jordanians, Palestinians, Cypriots, Europeans all together ..then you have to consider every comma”
The Archbishop would have done well to have remembered this sage advice before uttering his Christmas Eve message - understanding that what he said would not touch at least 600000 Jews - but cause them immeasurable hurt.
Indeed those who are playing charades with the newly crowned President of the State of Palestine are engaging in a world of make believe - where the words and commas in the Mandate for Palestine, the Montevideo Convention, Article 80 of the United Nations Charter, Security Council Resolution 242, the Oslo Accords and the Bush Roadmap - are apparently no longer worth the paper they are written on.
One can now add the Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel to these discarded international agreements.
This does not bode well for any possible peaceful resolution of the long running conflict between Jews and Arabs.
The last Pope to bear Pope Benedict’s name - Benedict XV - enthusiastically endorsed the Jews’ right to reconstitute their national home in what was then Palestine when he told Zionist leader Nahum Sokolov at an audience in 1917 :
“Nineteen hundred years ago Rome destroyed your homeland and when you seek to rebuild it, you seek a path which leads via Rome…Yes this is the will of Divine Providence, this is what the Almighty desires.”
Violating Vatican vows this time round is certainly not going to entice Israel to beat a path to Rome as it continues to reconstitute the Jewish National Home in its ancient, biblical and internationally sanctioned homeland.