Vatican City, Jan 11, 2017 / 20:02 pm
Pope Francis' private audience with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas this Jan. 14 will be a delicate diplomatic moment for the Holy See.
Mahmoud Abbas heads to Rome to inaugurate the new Palestinian embassy to the Holy See, one year after the Holy See-Palestine agreement took effect and made official the Holy See's recognition of the State of Palestine.
This visit will prove how Vatican diplomacy is able to walk a thin line. The Holy See is in dialogue with both Palestine and Israel. It has been criticized by the Israeli state for the recognition of the State of Palestine that was part of the comprehensive agreement.
However, it would be wrong to think that the Holy See's position is imbalanced. At a recent Catholic-Jewish joint meeting, the Holy See backed a final document that implicitly criticized a UNESCO resolution that failed to call by their Hebrew names some of the most sacred places of Jerusalem, like Temple Mount.
At root, the Holy See does not officially take any stance for one party or the other. Rather, it looks attentively to the events in the Holy Land and advocates for a peaceful solution of the conflict.
Yet in his speech delivered to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See Jan. 9, Pope Francis underscored that the Holy See renewed its urgent appeal for the resumption of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians towards "a stable and enduring solution that guarantees the peaceful coexistence of two states within internationally recognized borders."
"No conflict can become a habit impossible to break. Israelis and Palestinians need peace," the Pope said. "The whole Middle East urgently needs peace!"
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas announced his upcoming visit to Rome in a message delivered to Palestinians on Dec. 24, Christmas Eve.
In the message, Abbas stressed that the meeting with Pope Francis will zero in on "the advancement of justice and peace in the region, as well as encouraging interfaith dialogue towards more understanding and respect."
The Palestinian president also said that he and the Pope will "reiterate our strong position that no Holy Book should be used as an excuse or to justify the commitment of any kind of crimes or violations." Another of the main topics of the meeting will be "the historic agreement between the State of Palestine and the Holy See as an example for the rest of the region on how to strengthen the presence of Christians and their institutions."
"Christians are the salt of this earth, and we don't conceive a Middle East without its indigenous Christians," Abbas said. "We will continue to cooperate with the heads of Churches in Jerusalem, who are part of Palestine and its people, to advance these mutual goals."
The Holy See-Palestine agreement was signed June 26, 2015 and came into effect Jan. 1. The agreement, in 32 articles, recognizes freedom of religion in Palestine and outlines the rights and obligations of the Church, its agencies and its personnel in the territory. The agreement also backed the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
When the agreement was officially announced, the Israeli foreign ministry deemed the treaty to be a "hasty step" that "damages the prospects for advancing a peace agreement, and harms the international effort to convince the Palestinian Authority to return to direct negotiations with Israel." It stressed its view that the agreement's provisions "do not take into account Israel's essential interests and the special historic status of the Jewish people in Jerusalem."
The issue of the historic status of Jewish people in Jerusalem was also raised in a UNESCO resolution Oct. 13, 2016. The resolution, put forward by the Palestinians and six Muslim countries, protests Israel's actions in and around the Temple Mount and against Muslims praying or seeking to pray there.
However, none of the places involved was named with its Hebrew name. Temple Mount is called "al-Haram al-Sharif," meaning "Noble Sanctuary," while The Western Wall plaza is named in quotation marks, and indicates its name as "al Buraq Plaza."
The resolution drew no Vatican comment. As a source within the Holy See diplomacy explained to CNA, "the Holy See does not enter into a political questions" such as those raised by the resolution, which was significantly titled "Occupied Palestine."
A simple reading of the resolution indicates it was mostly political. The text never considered the question of whether the Western Wall is or is not a sacred location for Jews. Rather, it focused on two specific issues: the fact that Orthodox Jews always more often go to the Temple Esplanade, not just to the Western Wall, claiming their right to pray on the Mount of the temple; and how Israeli authorities manage excavations and infrastructures in the area of the Temple Mount.