Those who forget that the Vatican is a city-state and not just the home office of the Catholic Church got a reminder this past week of just how its sovereignty works. Its decision to formally recognize “Palestine” as an independent nation was not a theological position but one in keeping with the policies of the rest of Europe which has chosen to promote the Palestinian Authority’s ambitions despite its repeated refusal to make peace and its lack of control of much of the territory it claims. The announcement of the planned treaty was timed to coincide with the canonization of two 19th century Arab nuns who lived in Ottoman-ruled Palestine. Yet despite that religious gloss on an otherwise realpolitik move the nuns were upstaged when Pope Francis embraced PA leader Mahmoud Abbas on his visit to Rome and pronounced him “an angel of peace.” Such hyperbole may be par for the course in exchanges between heads of state but for the pope to say something that is so patently false damages his credibility in a way that does the church more harm than might have occurred than had it decided not to join in the rush to recognize the Palestinians. Abbas may be many things but he is no angel as well as not being a champion of peace.
As I noted last week, the decisions being taken by the Vatican and other European states won’t advance peace. To the contrary, such moves only encourage Abbas to continue to refuse to negotiate with Israel. The only path forward for a two state solution to the conflict is for the Palestinians to be given statehood only after they have made peace with Israel and not before. Abbas and his predecessor Yasir Arafat have repeatedly refused Israeli offers of peace and statehood. To this day, he refuses to sign any deal that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.
That alone should be enough to deny Abbas the title of “angel of peace.” But that isn’t the only reason. Abbas was a longtime deputy to arch-terrorist Arafat and played a role in organizing and financing many acts of brutal terrorism. But unlike other world leaders who might have employed violence in his youth and then became a statesman, Abbas has never really changed. He is the same man who wrote a doctoral thesis that centered on Holocaust denial at Moscow’s Patrice Lumumba University that was published in 1984. He continues to embrace and honor terrorists, such as the murderers with the blood of innocent civilians on their hands that were released by Israel in order to ransom Gilad Shalit from his Hamas captors. Just as important, though he occasionally makes statements about wanting peace when speaking to Western audiences or the international media, his official PA media incites hatred against Jews and Israel on a regular basis.
Let’s concede that part of the Vatican’s motivation for all the love being shown the Palestinians is a desire to position the church to protect Middle East Christians at a time when they are under siege from radical Islam in the region. That ISIS is slaughtering Christians with impunity is well known. Less talked about is the every day pressure that Christian communities are under throughout the region. The result is that ancient Christian communities are disappearing as its members flee for safety in the West rather than face increasing marginalization and discrimination if not violence.
That Christian institutions like the Church would choose to ingratiate themselves with the Muslim world by attacking Israel in this manner is not altogether surprising. Arab Christians have long sought to gain acceptance from Muslims by being in the forefront of the struggle against Zionism. It hasn’t worked as Arab Christians continue to be attacked no matter how ardently they demonstrate their antipathy for Israel and Jews. Religious minorities in the Muslim have a natural ally in Israel but Arab Christians and some of their Western supporters continue to cling to the myth that they can win acceptance from Muslims by joining in attacks on the Jews. That Western Christians also adopt such attitudes is equally foolish. But it can also be explained by anti-Semitic attitudes that persist in Europe despite the heroic efforts of Pope Francis’ predecessors, Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II to eradicate the vestiges of the Church’s past errors.
The pope might be forgiven for this flight of fancy if he were to give an equally egregious title to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu during a meeting with him. But given the animosity that Europeans direct toward the democratically elected leader of the Jewish state such a similar papal embrace is highly unlikely.
Pope Francis’s statement about Abbas can be dismissed as mere window dressing to the Vatican’s diplomatic initiative. But the damage the pope does when he says things that are so blatantly false goes beyond the assault on the truth that so often occurs when world leaders are polite to each other. The power of the papacy remains great. During the last decade of the Cold War, Pope John Paul II proved that Stalin was wrong when he mocked a previous pope by asking how many divisions he controlled. But that power must rest in truth if it is to be more than just talk.
The pope is a good man whose intentions should not be questioned. But just as the Vatican should refrain from acts that harm peace such as its recognition of Palestine, so, too, should the pope not utter falsehoods. That Pope Francis must meet with Abbas is to be expected but when he says something so obviously untrue about him, it hurts the papacy and undermines good relations between the church and the Jewish people more than it helps the corrupt, tyrannical and undemocratic leader of a Palestinian kleptocracy.