Pope Francis met Thursday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Vatican, where the Secretariat of State stressed the need to restart direct dialogue to achieve a two-state solution with Israel.
Abbas met privately with the pope in the Apostolic Palace on Nov. 4, before entering into discussions with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s equivalent of a foreign minister.
“During the cordial talks in the Secretariat of State … the need to promote human brotherhood and peaceful coexistence among the various faiths was acknowledged,” a Vatican statement said.
“With regard to the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, it was stressed that it is absolutely necessary to reactivate direct dialogue in order to achieve a two-state solution, also with the help of more vigorous effort on the part of the international community.”
According to the Vatican, the secretariat of state reiterated that Jerusalem must be recognized as “a place of encounter and not of conflict,” and that its status as “a Holy City for all three Abrahamic religions” must be preserved.
“Finally, attention turned to the urgency of working for peace, avoiding the use of weapons, and combating all forms of extremism and fundamentalism,” the Vatican statement said.
Wafa, the news agency of the Palestinian National Authority, reported Nov. 4 that Abbas briefed the pope on “the importance of jointly confronting the attempts to seize Palestinian property and church property, including through fraudulent sales, particularly in the Old City of Jerusalem.”
The meeting came a week after Israel approved about 3,000 new settler homes in the occupied West Bank.
According to Vatican News, the meeting was the pope’s sixth encounter with Abbas at the Vatican. The two met for the first time at a prayer for peace in the Vatican Gardens together with then Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Abbas, 85, has been president of the Palestinian National Authority since 2005 and the chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) since 2004. He previously served as the first prime minister of the Palestinian Authority in 2003.
Ahead of the meeting, Abbas spoke on the phone with Pope Francis on Oct. 11, according to a a report from ACI Stampa, CNA’s Italian-language news partner, which said that the Palestinian president’s office stated that the pope underlined the need for a two-state solution.
The Holy See has long supported a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. The Holy See made official its recognition of the State of Palestine with an agreement signed in 2015.
The Associated Press reported Sept. 21 that a poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that nearly 80% of Palestinians want Abbas to resign and 45% of Palestinians believe Hamas should represent them.
Hamas, the political rival of the Abbas’ Fatah party, has control of the Gaza Strip.
During a surge in violence in the Israel-Gaza conflict last spring, the pope expressed concern that the clashes risked “degenerating into a spiral of death and destruction.”
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“Furthermore, the crescendo of hatred and violence that is affecting various cities in Israel is a serious wound to fraternity and peaceful coexistence among citizens, which will be difficult to heal if there is not an immediate opening to dialogue,” Pope Francis said May 16.
“I ask myself: where will hatred and revenge lead? Do we really think we will build peace by destroying the other?”
“Let us pray unceasingly that Israelis and Palestinians may find the path of dialogue and forgiveness, to be patient builders of peace and justice, opening up, step by step, to a common hope, to a coexistence among brothers,” Pope Francis said.
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.
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Nearly a year since taking part in a prayer for Middle East peace in the Vatican Gardens, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has been invited to the Vatican a second time, for the canonization Mass of two Palestinians.