ROME – A “renewed commitment of the international community” is necessary to meet the “legitimate aspirations” of Israelis and Palestinians and “reactivate the peace process” to “reach a two-state solution”: this is the hope that emerged during the fourth audience that the Pope granted to the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) since the beginning of his pontificate.
Francis returned to stress the importance of preserving the “universal value of the Holy City for the three Abrahamic religions” of Jerusalem, after the controversial decision of U.S. President Donald Trump to move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv, a decision announced in December 2017 and implemented last May, which recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
During the “cordial talks” that Abbas had first with the Pope and then with the “Foreign Minister” of the Holy See, Monsignor Paul Richard Gallagher (the Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin is on a mission to Paris), the two “dwelled over the path of reconciliation within the Palestinian people”, reads the Vatican note concerning the relationship between PLO and Hamas, “as well as on the efforts to reactivate the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians and to reach a two-state solution, hoping for a renewed commitment of the international community to meet the legitimate aspirations of both peoples. Particular attention has been paid to the status of Jerusalem, underlining the importance of recognizing and preserving its identity and universal value as a Holy City for the three Abrahamic religions”.
During the talks, once again, “the good relations between the Holy See and Palestine and the positive role of Christians and the activity of the Church in Palestinian society, sanctioned by the Global Agreement of 2015, were noted”. Finally, “the other conflicts that afflict the Middle East and the urgent need to promote paths of peace and dialogue, with the contribution of religious communities, to combat all forms of extremism and fundamentalism were discussed”.
Francis welcomed the Palestinian leader with a hug and a kiss. The conversation behind closed doors in the presence of an Arab interpreter from the Vatican Secretariat of State lasted 20 minutes. When Francis gave him his message for the World Day of Peace, Abu Mazen commented: “Let us pray for peace this Christmas season”. The Palestinian President, for his part, gave the Argentine Pontiff a book on the historical relationship between the Vatican and the Holy Land and an image of Jerusalem: “This represents the spirit of the old city of Jerusalem,” he stressed.
The Palestinian President was accompanied by a delegation of sixteen people, including Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki, Ambassador to the Holy See Issa Kassissieh and Ambassador to the Quirinale Mai Alkaila. As he bid farewell to the Pope, Abbas told him: “I am happy with this meeting: we are counting on you”.
The Palestinian news agency Wafa reports that Abbas “briefed the Pope on the latest developments in Palestine and the implications of the US decision recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving its embassy to the city”. The Palestinian president also briefed the Pope on “Israeli violations against the Palestinian people, their land and holy places, particularly in Jerusalem. Finally, the conversation also touched on the theme of “relations between Palestine and the Papal seat and the strong historical relations between them, while President Abbas thanked the Pope for his support of the just Palestinian cause”.
In an interview with La Stampa, Abbas – who after the Pope is scheduled to meet with the President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella and with the President of the Italian Council Giuseppe Conte – explained: “The United States of Trump cannot be the only mediators in the Middle East”, and explained: “Last February I suggested to the UN Security Council that the only way to make progress is to create a mechanism that includes all the permanent members of the Security Council, the Quartet and others. Europe can also have a role. And furthermore, we remain open to direct negotiations: I have accepted meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu several times, even in Moscow at the invitation of President Putin, but he never showed up”.
This is the fourth private audience of the Pontiff with the Palestinian leader, after that of 17 October 2013, that of 16 May 2015 and that of 14 January 2017, without forgetting the prayer for peace in the Vatican Gardens with the then Israeli President Shimon Peres and the Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew in June 2014, after Francis’ trip to the Holy Land, and the meeting with Abbas in Palestine. On 15 November, last Pope Francis received the Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. Between Mahmoud Abbas and the Pope, moreover, there were several phone calls after the U.S. decision to move the embassy in Jerusalem. The Holy See recognized the “State of Palestine” in January 2016.