Pope Benedict XVI landed in Israel on Monday morning on the second leg of his Middle East tour after a short flight from Jordan.
Speaking at a red carpet welcoming ceremony, the pontiff called for renewed efforts for a peaceful resolution to the Palestinian struggle for self-determination.
“I plead with all those responsible to explore every possible avenue in the search for a just resolution of the outstanding difficulties, so that both peoples may live in peace in a homeland of their own, within secure and internationally recognized borders,” said Benedict.
The pope did not make reference to a Palestinian state in his first foray into the Palestinian-Israeli arena.
“The hopes of countless men, women and children for a more secure and stable future depend on the outcome of negotiations for peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” said the pontiff in a speech that also stressed the importance of remembering the Holocaust.
The pope is scheduled to travel by helicopter to Jerusalem, where he will be welcomed by the Israeli mayor of the city. He will then meet the Israeli president, visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and hold an “interfaith forum” at a Jerusalem hotel.
Benedict’s itinerary for his weeklong visit includes meetings and other encounters with Palestinians in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and in the interior of Israel. On Tuesday the pontiff will meet the mufti of Jerusalem at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. On Wednesday the pope will spend the day in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, celebrating mass. On Thursday the pope will give another mass in Nazareth, a predominantly Palestinian city inside Israel.
Because Israel has banned all Palestinian official activity in Jerusalem, the Palestinian Authority is allowed to coordinate only those events taking place in Bethlehem.
Rafiq Al-Huseini, the head of Palestinian president’s office said in a press conference in Jerusalem on Sunday that the pope’s visit would allow him to “see firsthand the suffering of the Palestinian people.”
Speaking at the same event, Palestinian Minister of Tourism Khouloud Daibes said that the pope’s “presence amongst us is very important. This represents an invitation to all pilgrims to visit the holy land not as religious pilgrims, but as political pilgrims in light of these very complicated conditions. We hope the pontiff’s next visit comes after Palestine, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem have gained their freedom.”