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Vatican decision to recognize Palestine upsets Israeli government, Jewish advocacy groups

Israeli President Shimon Peres puts on a kippah before speaking next to Pope Francis and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, far right, in the Vatican Gardens at the Vatican on June 8, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Max Rossi *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-VATICAN-PALESTINE, originally transmitted on May 13, 2015.
Israeli President Shimon Peres puts on a kippah before speaking next to Pope Francis and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, far right, in the Vatican Gardens at the Vatican on June 8, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Max Rossi *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-VATICAN-PALESTINE, originally transmitted on May 13, 2015.

Israeli President Shimon Peres puts on a kippah before speaking next to Pope Francis and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, far right, in the Vatican Gardens at the Vatican on June 8, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Max Rossi
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-VATICAN-PALESTINE, originally transmitted on May 13, 2015.

JERUSALEM (RNS) The Vatican’s decision to recognize the state of Palestine in a treaty on Wednesday (May 13)  angered Israeli officials.

The move comes four days before the first-ever canonization of two Palestinian nuns and it solidifies the standing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is scheduled to meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Saturday.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon told The Times of Israel that the government is “disappointed by the decision. We believe that such a decision is not conducive to bringing the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.”

Israel insists that for the Palestinians to achieve statehood, they must first end their armed struggle against Israel and recognize its right to exist as the homeland of the Jewish people.

Although the treaty codifies the Holy See’s relations with the Palestinian Authority, the Vatican has already referred to the “State of Palestine” in some official documents, including the official program handed out during Pope Francis’ Holy Land pilgrimage last year.

In recent years, the Vatican has stepped up its efforts to support Palestinian Christians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza as their numbers have dwindled due to emigration spurred by wars and economic hardships.

A majority of Christians in the Holy Land — including Israel — are either ethnic Palestinians or live alongside them in the same towns and villages. Sisters Maria Baouardy and Mary Alphonsine Danil Ghattas, who were both Christian Arabs, are due to be canonized by Pope Francis on Sunday.

William Shomali, the auxiliary bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, said the Vatican’s announcement “was not a surprise” because “the pope called President Abbas the president of the State of Palestine” during his 2014 pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

But David Harris, executive director of the AJC, the leading global Jewish advocacy organization, said the decision was “regrettable“ and “counterproductive to all who seek true peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”

“We are fully cognizant of the pope’s goodwill and desire to be a voice for peaceful coexistence, which is best served, we believe, by encouraging a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, rather than unilateral gestures outside the framework of the negotiating table,” Harris concluded.

Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the action was “premature” and would “undermine the only real solution to the decades-old conflict, which is engaging in direct negotiations.”


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Michele Chabin


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  • Negotiations are best held between parties of equal status – in this case, as states. The more entities that recognize the Palestinian state, the more difficult it will be for Israel to treat it as an inferior “partner” …

  • The Pope recognized the Palestinian leader who is actually sort of playing nice.

    Unlike his counterpart in Gaza, Abbas has not been engaging in “the armed struggle” with Israel for quite some time. The last time there was full scale organized violence in the West Bank being fratricidal in nature. Against Hamas, not Israel.

    Frankly, Netanyahu’s treatment of the West Bank is deplorable. Much of it due to having a support base in those wanting to keep the settlements. They have to go. The settlements are a holdover from a failed attempt at “pacification by colonization”. Something that was a bit out of step in the 1970’s let alone in the 21st Century.

    The conditions for peace between the West Bank and Israel are closer now than they have been in 1997. Now that Hamas has its own defacto state, they are in effect separated out from the equation. But Israel has no real desire to restart talks and Abbas can’t do squat.

  • Frankly, Netanyahu’s treatment of the West Bank is deplorable.

    It isn’t.

    The current situation on the West Bank is preferable to the Arab political bosses than any alternatives, which is why it persists.

  • Negotiations can only take place between two entities, each of which has something the other wants, that can only be obtained by surrendering something it has. Israel takes from Palestine whatever it wants, with complete impunity. Therefore, negotiations are, and always have been, a farce. The international community should simply force Israel to abide by international law. That is the only way to stop Israel’s apartheid practices and bring peace. Long live Palestine!

  • The Palestinians only want an independent country on their ancestral lands. The U.S. offered to provide a peacekeeping force to ‘protect’ Israel, but the Israelis declined, since it would mean ending the brutal, illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip, and the brutal, illegal occupation of the West Bank. Israel is an international criminal.

  • Fatah’s relationship with the Arab League doesn’t change how Israel is mistreating the West Bank. You are having some trouble making causal links between issues.

    Those Arab bosses have pretty much abandoned Fatah seeking more proactive proxies in the form of ISIS. Its why the “armed struggle” is pretty much a done thing for Abbas (not including fratricidal warfare with Hamas). The momentum is all on the Israeli side of the equation when it comes to the West Bank.*

    *Gaza is an Iran sponsored theocratic hellhole. Hamas are on their own.

  • Again, religion getting involved with worldly politics and strife, not recognizing that God’s kingdom or heavenly government (Daniel 2:44) is the only hope for peace among all nations on earth (Isaiah 11:1-9).

  • Vatican City’s recognition of the Palestine State is the choice of Vatican City, not Israel. Pope Francis equally recognizes Israel, so what is the issue? It is a diplomatic issue and little more, the Vatican is not going to be selling arms or building bases in Palestine. Jesus would have done the same.

  • JR,

    Jesus did not get involved in worldly politics or conflicts (John 6:15) His major work was preaching the good news of God’s kingdom or heavenly government (Daniel 2:44) as the only hope for mankind (Matthew 4:17). The Pope chooses not to follow his example.

  • Congratulations Pope Francis! Common sense and the reading of Jesus Social Justice message is again being voiced. In Canada, the ultra-conservative Prime Minister is claiming that a main line Protestant Church-The United Church of Canada is a terrorist organization because it supports a boycott of Israel due to its treatment of Palestine.
    I wonder if Prime Minister Harper dares place the Roman Catholic Church under his gun sights in Canada due to the actions of the pope.

  • I am a fatalist rather than a Zionist with regards to Peace in Israel/Palestine. Ultimately, this will prove an insolvable problem whether it continues 1 year, ten, one hundred, or a thousand. All this despite recognition, intervention, attempts at conciliation, or any human hope or agency. It is sad but true. Attribute it to anti-intellectual fundamentalism if it pleases you, but for those of us who trust in Jesus Christ and the prophesies contained in both Testaments, it was clearly foretold that the end of humanity’s rule over this small beleaguered planet would come in a cataclysm. A cataclysm likely centered in the Middle East.

  • Peace will never come to the Middle East through any purely human government or agency.

  • The Palestinian people deserve a better advocate.

    The Palestinians in Israel live better in Israel than they do in the OTHER Palestine, better known today as Jordan.

    Palestine was the country of Jordan AND Israel. The Arabs were given the eastern 2/3rds(Jordan), and Israel was given the western third. One of the reasons this land was ceased to Israel from Britain was due to all the Palestinians that fought with the SS under the Third Reich.

    Why does British Palestine get more world attention than the ever stronger cases for “border adjustment justice” such as Tibet, Kurdistan, Chechnya, Bialypolska, the Basque country, and possibly even the Navajo and Lakota nations?

    OK, so a 150 acre country first recognized by Benito Mussolini now recognizes a group that does not even recognize Israel. Apparently the Church still has a soft spot for Fascism as it did in the 1940’s.

    Pedophiles & Palestinians now share the compassion of the Vatican. It will not help advance…

  • As much as I would like to only see a Palestinian state after bilateral negotiations and a complete end to any Palestinian governmental support of terrorism, it’s hard to say that with a straight face with Netanyahu as the head of the Israeli government. He has made his opposition to a two-state solution pretty well known by now.

  • “Something that was a bit out of step in the 1970’s let alone in the 21st Century.

    It is more than “a bit out of step” it is illegal under international law ….

  • It is about time, how long will it be, how long does it take to acknowledge the
    people’s of Palestine? Christians, Jews, and Muslims all call Palestine home,
    did not Christ also “exist” in the area? Any one who wants a “balanced” history
    should start with either “BLOOD BROTHERS” or ”WE BELONG TO THE LAND”
    both written my ELIAS CHACOUR, you will get a “balanced” life time view of
    people’s who have lived together for centuries in peace without being ”taken
    into the State of Israel.

  • Garson, only a control freak truly believes that when it comes to lasting peace with the Palestinians, it actually matters who Israel’s prime minister is and what he or she does.

    The fact remains that the ball is and always has been in the court of Israel’s neighbors, including the Palestinians. Whoever is Israel’s prime minister at any given time will readily cede territory to a Palestinian people that wakes up one morning and decides it truly wants to live side by side with Israel.

    Too many people, many of them Jews, refuse to believe it’s out of their hands and that there is no magic button they can push that will bring peace.

    Given this reality, the only adult answer is for Israel to wait it out, making clear to the Palestinians and their enablers that Israel is here to stay, peace or no peace.

    One day, perhaps, a new generation of Palestinians will decide that further war is fruitless. Until then, the lone answer is for Israel to hang tough and not panic.

  • Fran,
    Jesus inadverdently inserted himself into the politics of the Jerusalem of His time on earth. His teachings upset the Jewish Sanhendrin, who involved Rome in his ultimate death sentence. How does the Pope not follow His example? Jesus equally respected Rome and His own people…..a contradiction of allegiance thought by the Jews. As the leader of this “new” testament’, he opened the Word to all.

  • Netanyahu’s actions have about as much to do with problem with the Palestinians as my stepping on a crack on a Greenwich sidewalk has to do with someone breaking their leg in Istanbul.

  • There is a zero causal relationship between Netanyahu’s policy on settlements and the Palestinians’ longtime refusal to recognize a Jewish state of any size, no matter how miniscule. This refusal has been the position of Arab rejectionists since before Israel even became a state. To argue otherwise is to engage in magical, superstitious thought.

  • Robert, your post is a classic triumph of blind ideology over simple geography. Check out a world map or globe sometime and you’ll see how you’re turning Israel, a tiny dot on the globe, into a colossus the size of the old USSR.

    Israel should tell your Palestinian friends to give it a call the day they wake up and finally decide they’re honestly willing to live side by side in peace with Israel.

  • What makes you think that “Jesus would have done the same?”

    Let me guess:

    Jesus somehow agrees with 100% of what you have to say on any given issue.

  • It’s a good bet He does, Jack….and on that I would cite Jesus’ recognition of Samaritans, Romans, etc. on an equal plain with the Chosen People.His biggest problem seemed to be with those who claimed faithfulness to “the Law” of Moses.

  • As I understand it, the Palestinian Christians aren’t the problem. It’s the fanatical Muslims that cause trouble. Inside the Dome of the Rock, Christianity’s concept of the Almighty is utterly renounced in Arabic script.

  • Excellent recommendation! I agree 100% with respect to Bishop Chacour’s testimony, assessment, and political philosophy; unfortunately there are too few like him, indigenous to the area, pragmatic, with a spirit of grace.

  • Jack, in case you missed it, lately Abbas and those Palestinians in the West Bank have been shown to be willing to do so. Israel right now has no real impetus to follow up. Politically it would be deadly to the coalition which keeps Netanyahu in office.

    In fact the de facto state of Gaza has made such things easier. Since the virulently violent Palestinians have their own de facto state, and been fratricidal, Abbas doesn’t have to appeal to that crowd. He is not Arafat, pretending to preside over the entire Palestinian people.

  • That is not true. During Oslo, the ball was firmly in the Palestinian court. It was Arafat who disrupted the last tangible chance at peace by using suicide bombers as negotiating tools. Plus back then the PLO was still trying to placate Hamas for the sake of unity. What the rest of the world didn’t know at the time was there was a civil war brewing among the Palestinians under the surface. It would come to the fore five years later.

    Now that we have effectively 2 separate and distinct Palestinian peoples/nations, negotiation is far easier. Fatah is willing to seek peace because the viability of a West Bank state depends on economic links to Israel. 20 years after Oslo and all the fight has gone out in that region.

    The settlements are an international eyesore. They serve no purpose except to create burdens on national security for Israel. The 1967 borders are unrealistic as well as both sides have spilled out over them.