Thursday, September 29th | 4 Tishri 5783

December 5, 2018 8:59 am

Pope Francis the Politician Meets Mahmoud Abbas

avatar by Fiamma Nirenstein /


Pope Francis on Jan. 8, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Andrew Medichini / Pool. – After the six resolutions that the United Nations voted on this past Friday against Israel — approved by 156 countries — that once again overwhelmingly denied Israel’s sovereignty over and the Jews’ historical relationship with Jerusalem, came Pope Francis’ meeting with Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas in Rome on Monday.

There, with all due respect, the Pope acted like a typical politician. The Pope’s approach to the Middle East is deprived of a sense of responsibility towards history; instead, he related only to the immediate consensus — the anti-Israel narrative, and paying homage to the so-called “Palestinian cause.”

Wouldn’t it have been better for him to veer towards a path as magnificent and historic as Pope John XXIII’s ban on antisemitism, or Pope John Paul II’s visit to the Western Wall, with his subsequent recognition of the State of Israel? Why not, on this occasion, didn’t he ask Abbas to embark on a real move towards reconciliation by recognizing the right of Jews to their state and their millennial capital?

In his meeting with Abbas, Pope Francis aligned himself, according to the Holy See press releases that were issued afterwards, with positions that have led nowhere but delegitimizing Israel. In the face of the immense changes assailing the Middle East, we should have expected something different. What does “reactivating the peace process” truly mean? Who’s going to reactivate it? To accomplish that, Abbas should at least explain why he has refused to engage in peace talks for years. Moreover, he should abandon the fierce, defamatory, and delegitimizing incitement that denies Israel’s very existence, along with his absurd accusations that Israel is engaging in ethnic cleansing and an apartheid state.

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The obstacles to peace are Abbas’ refusals, his exaltation of terrorism, and his determination to continue to provide salaries to imprisoned terrorists and the families of dead ones.

Pope Francis expressed his hope for a two-state solution. But would it not be better to recognize that today those states would have to be three, given the fact that the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza arguably hate each other more than they hate Israel?

With the benevolent smile Abbas puts on when he meets European leaders — which was ever wider for the Pope — it is useful to remember what his request for “peace” is all about. Anyone who even thinks about peace with Israel is condemned as a traitor in Palestinian eyes. Has Pope Francis read what is taught in school textbooks used in Ramallah? Has he even seen a Palestinian television program for children? The PA appears to be moderate only because Hamas is a widely recognized terrorist organization.

And finally, Jerusalem: Is it so difficult, especially given the pope’s religious knowledge, to remember the link between the Jews and their quintessential city? Is it so hard for the church? The allusion in the expression used in the Vatican communiqué that calls for “recognizing and preserving the identity and universal value of the Holy City for the three Abrahamic religions” is simply a reminder of the movement against the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In Jerusalem, full respect for all religions is already practiced and guaranteed. The Temple Mount, however, is managed by Muslims, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is overseen by Christians. Is full access a given in those places?

And if the city were to be divided, wouldn’t everyone else be as well?

Journalist Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies, served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including Israel Is Us (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Partial translation by Amy Rosenthal.

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