May 27, 2014

Pope Francis Does Wonders In Palestine, Gives Gift of Hope

An excerpt from, "Pope Francis exceeds expectations for Palestinians" by Daoud Kuttab, Al-Monitor, May 26, 2014:
If the pope’s unscheduled stop at the wall provided the most dramatic image of the day, the pontiff’s speech at Manger Square in Bethlehem provided the media with a tangible news item. Standing in front of a mural of the nativity scene and a baby Jesus wrapped in a Palestinian keffiyeh, the pope called on all believers to pray for peace and justice, then turned to the politicians. Addressing Abbas, who attended along with Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, the mayor of Bethlehem Vera Baboon and chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, the pope made a special plea. “I wish to invite you, President Mahmoud Abbas, together with [Israeli] President Shimon Peres, to join me in heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace. I offer my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer," he said.
Palestinians and Jordanians were ecstatic with the visit. It had exceeded their expectations and no incidents took place. Pope Francis' pilgrimage, like that of the three previous pontiffs, will stay in the memory of the local community for years. His words, actions and smiles, his homily about the rights of all children, his angry moment about arms traders and the war in Syria, and his plea for peace and justice in Palestine will continue to be talked about. The dwindling Arab Christian community in the countries of the Levant, which is far from good news, had for these few hours a smile on their faces as they felt empowered and invigorated by the pope's visit. One Jordanian Christian carried away with the emotion of Pope Francis’ visit told Al-Monitor that every Arab Christian living abroad must return. This no doubt was the hope of the visiting pontiff and the church leaders who helped organize his visit to the Holy Land.
An excerpt from, "Pope Francis and the Middle East Peace Process" by Paul R. Pillar, The National Interest, May 26, 2014:
The trip by Pope Francis to the Holy Land, billed in advance as solely religious, made some eye-catching intrusions into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Comments minimizing the significance of this aspect of the trip were quick to follow. Palestinian figure Hanan Ashrawi seemed to go out of her way to pooh-pooh the coming prayer meeting at the Vatican in which Israeli president Shimon Peres and Palestinian authority president Mahmoud Abbas will join Francis; Ashrawi accused the pope—probably inaccurately—of not realizing that Peres in his mostly ceremonial position wields little power. Skepticism about how much any leader of the Roman Catholic church can accomplish follows in the tradition of Stalin questioning how many divisions the pope has. The pope still doesn't have any divisions, and neither does Peres and of course neither does Abbas.

Francis's foray into Israeli-Palestinian matters nonetheless was encouraging, for several reasons. One is that for a credible and prominent world figure to do this reduces the chance that the Israeli government can, as Jacob Heilbrunn puts it, “derogate the Palestinian issue to the back burner of international relations.” The United States will not be venturing very far into this issue anytime soon, after Secretary Kerry's admirably energetic but ultimately futile efforts on the subject. More fundamentally, the United States still wears the self-imposed political shackles that prevent it from functioning effectively on this issue as anything other than Israel's lawyer. The U.S. role still will be critical if the Palestinian issue is ever to be resolved, but perhaps it will take more initiative by someone outside the United States to counteract the power and damaging effect of the shackles.

Another reason is that Francis has demonstrated a flair, and certainly has done so on this trip, for focusing attention sharply on an issue while still performing the balancing acts required of any statesman. The most potent image by far from the visit was the pope's stop at a section of the Israeli-constructed separation wall, with Francis bringing his head to the wall and praying. Here was the counterpart, in wall-for-a-wall balance, to the more familiar image of the distinguished visitor at Jerusalem's Western Wall. One wall is an ancient artifact that is one of the leading symbols of Israel's claim to all of Jerusalem; the other is an ugly modern contrivance that not only symbolizes Israel's unilateral slicing up of the West Bank but has practical consequences, negative and severe, on the Arab population that lives there. A couple of millennia from now, who will be praying at the latter wall, and in remembrance of what? Whether it was Francis himself or someone else in his entourage who thought up this photo op, it was brilliant.
Video Title: Pope in Tel Aviv: May the 'two-state solution' be a reality, not a dream. Source: Rome Reports. Date Published: May 25, 2014.