By Richard Walker —
Pope Francis’s decision to sign a treaty recognizing the state of Palestine infuriated Israel and its backers in Congress and effectively added fuel to the global campaign to punish Israeli companies linked to the building of settlements on Palestinian land.
A significant outcome of the Vatican’s signing of a treaty with the Palestinian Authority (PA) will be the imprimatur it bestows on the PA, and the pressure it will put on European countries that have been sitting on the sidelines of the Palestinian statehood issue for decades. There could soon be a growing demand within the European Union for it to declare its formal backing for a two-state solution. Another important element of the treaty is that it confirmed the pope was backing the Palestinians’ demand to have their capital in East Jerusalem, something the current Israeli government has vowed to prevent.
The pope did something else Palestinians had been hoping for. In 2013, a Palestinian writer and former Princeton professor, Daoud Kuttab, wondered aloud how this pope would address the Palestinian question. He commented that Palestinians and the “peoples” of the Middle East were looking hard into the pope’s background for answers. No doubt Israel was doing the same research, but neither of them could have anticipated him acting so quickly and decisively to confront Israel and its powerful United States lobby.
Israel’s reaction to the pope’s move was fast and furious, and came as a new Israeli government, the most extreme in the country’s history, was taking shape. An Israeli government spokesman told Reuters that there could be “reprisals” against the Vatican, but did not elaborate further.
It is unclear what kind of reprisals Israel could possibly take, but a war of words with this pope or any kind of diplomatic move to restrict Vatican access to Gaza and the West Bank could, in the opinion of a European diplomat who spoke to this writer off the record, have negative repercussions for Israel.
“Israel has to be careful confronting the power of this particular pontiff,” the diplomat warned. “He is not like his predecessors, who tip-toed when it came to handling Israel. He has acquired an authority and worldwide respect that Israel would be foolish to deny. What makes this Vatican treaty so significant is that it comes at a time when the new Israeli government is filled with people opposed to a two-state solution. By throwing his papal hat in the ring, Pope Francis was telling [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu he was in the Palestinian corner. That will speak loudly to a global audience.”
The pope’s predecessor, Benedict, was always careful not to offend Israeli sensibilities. When he visited the region in 2009, he only commented how sad he felt when he observed the 26-foot-high concrete barrier Israel had built to wall-in the Palestinians. In contrast, when Francis visited the region, he made a point of standing and praying beside the wall, surrounded by flag-waving Palestinians. He told the media at the time the political stalemate over the calls for Palestinian statehood was “unacceptable.”
The latest papal foray into the prickly issue of Middle East politics drew predictable condemnation from the powerful pro-Israeli lobby in Congress, and the mainstream U.S. media. New York’s Daily News reaction summed up the mood of the pro-Israel press. While it accepted that the pope’s move would provide a “unprecedented imprimatur” to the Palestinian call for a United Nations declaration of statehood, it lamented that the pope was getting involved. The paper even suggested Palestinians would exploit the pope’s “empathy.”
Condemnation also came in a wave from our Israeli-controlled Congress, where the pope will speak later this year. Politico reported some congressmen condemned the pope for inserting himself into the Palestinian issue, and one even suggested Francis probably knew little about the issue.
Richard Walker is the pen name of a former N.Y. news producer.
Are Liberal Anti-Zionists More Dangerous Than Right-Wing Israeli Jews?
By John Friend —
On May 13, the Vatican announced it had reached a preliminary agreement with the state of Palestine after lengthy diplomatic talks, making clear the Vatican’s official and legally binding recognition of an independent, sovereign Palestinian state, as opposed to the Palestine Liberation Organization and Palestinian Authority.
The talks between the Bilateral Commission of the Holy See and the State of Palestine, chaired by Monsignor Antoine Camilleri, the Vatican’s Under-Secretary for the Holy See’s Relations with States, and Ambassador Rawan Sulaiman, Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs for Multilateral Affairs of the State of Palestine, led to an agreement between the Vatican and Palestinian officials and representatives, which is set to translate into an official treaty in the near future. The discussion and tentative agreement revolve around “essential aspects of the life and activity of the Catholic Church in Palestine,” according to L’Osservatore Romano, a Vatican-run newspaper.
Although the actual text of the agreement has not been officially released, Camilleri said it addresses religious freedom, freedom of conscience, property and tax questions, Catholic-run media outlets, and charitable activities.
The bilateral commission is in the process of finalizing the agreement, which will then “be submitted to the respective authorities for approval ahead of setting a debate in the near future for the signing,” according to the Vatican.
Over the weekend, Pope Francis went so far as to call Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, an “angel of peace” during a meeting at the Vatican. President Abbas was in Rome to observe and celebrate the canonization of two new saints from the formerly Ottoman-ruled Palestinian territories.
Of course, Israel did not welcome the Vatican’s latest diplomatic move.
“Israel heard with disappointment the decision of the Holy See to agree a final formulation of an agreement with the Palestinians, including the use of the term ‘Palestinian state’,” said an Israeli foreign ministry official. “Such a development does not further the peace process and distances the Palestinian leadership from returning to direct bilateral negotiations. Israel will study the agreement and consider its next step.”
However, Vatican officials see otherwise. The preliminary agreement reflects the Vatican’s “hope for a solution to the Palestinian question and the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians according to the two-state solution,” Camilleri explained. Camilleri hopes “the accord could, even in an indirect way, help the Palestinians in the establishment and recognition of an independent, sovereign and democratic State of Palestine.”
AMERICAN FREE PRESS recently had the chance to sit down with Israeli-born saxophonist, philosopher and political commentator Gilad Atzmon, who is currently on a speaking tour in the United States to promote his latest book, co-authored with Enzo Apicella, entitled A to Zion: The Definitive Israeli Lexicon. This reporter attended his recent lecture at a public library in Cardiff by the Sea, a small beach community in San Diego County, California.
“By taking such an important and necessary step, Pope Francis reinstated holiness, truthfulness and a sense of ethics to the heart of an institution that has lost its way a long time ago,” said Atzmon. “I hope that such a step may help millions of Catholics grasp that notion that the so-called ‘Judeo-Christian’ alliance is just another duplicitous invention designed to support even more Zionist, neocon wars in the Middle East.”
Atzmon turned the discussion to the usurpation of the Palestinian Solidarity movement by leftist Jewish activists in order to advance broader Jewish interests and protect the ethnic nature of the Jewish state of Israel.
“In an interview a few years back, Philip Weiss, the chief editor of the Jewish pro-Palestinian website “Mondoweiss,” admitted to me in plain terms that in his eyes pro-Palestinian activism serves Jewish ‘self interests’,” said Atzmon. “Such a Jewish activity conveys a misleading image of Jewish political pluralism. It suggests that not all Jews are ‘bad’ and that Jewish politics can even be ethical and universal.”
Atzmon argues that the Jewish left is “far more problematic and dangerous than hardcore right-wing Zionism.” Zionism is an open celebration of Jewish identity, nationalism and ethnocentrism, the so-called “Jewish symptom,” as Atzmon describes it. Leftist Jews attempt to deny to the rest of us access to that symptom, Atzmon contends.
“If Jewish power is defined as the power to suppress the discussion on Jewish power, Mondoweiss, Jewish Voices for Peace, Democracy Now!, Noam Chomsky and others are there to pursue that task day and night,” Atzmon argues. “They crudely restrict the boundaries of the discourse by means of ‘political correctness’” and defining what topics are permissible to discuss.
“Mondoweiss went as far as banning any criticism of Israel within the context of Jewishness,” Atzmon explained. “This duplicitous attempt to subvert the discourse worked for a while. However, not anymore, and I take some credit for it.”
During his talk in San Diego, Atzmon explained that in the past the Palestinian right of return defined the Palestinian cause in ethical, political and legal terms. However, “the growing domination of liberal Jews within the movement diluted this elementary right,” Atzmon continued.
The discourse relating to the Palestinian struggle was replaced by “a tsunami of misleading, faulty terminology designed to appease some diaspora Jews and whatever is left of the Israeli ‘left’,” Atzmon noted. “All of that was done at the expense of the Palestinians. While the right of return located the Palestinian plight within an accurate historical, political, legal and moral context, the newly imposed terminology, e.g, ‘End of Occupation’, ‘Colonialism,’ ‘Apartheid’ and even BDS (post-2010) is legitimizing the Jewish state within pre-1967 borders. It dismisses the refugees, Gaza and the Palestinian diaspora’s plight.”
Despite the setbacks the Palestinian Solidarity movement has faced in recent years, the Vatican’s recent recognition of an independent Palestinian state is certainly a step in the right direction. Time will tell how the Jewish left will deal with this development. There can be no doubt, however, that Atzmon will be watching like a hawk, ready to analyze and critique the ostensible pro-Palestinian positions of these activists.
John Friend is a California-based writer who maintains a blog.