Commentary Magazine


Topic: Vatican

Vatican Recognition of Palestine Won’t Bring Peace Closer

Israel’s critics will celebrate the news today that the Vatican will recognize Palestinian statehood as a rebuke of the Jewish state’s government and policies. The move is line with the international community’s push for Palestinian statehood. It also is part of the Vatican’s efforts to appease the Arab and Muslim worlds as part of a campaign to improve the plight of embattled and dwindling Christian communities in the Middle East. As such, its impact will be mostly symbolic though it will certainly be considered yet another blow to Israel’s uphill efforts to maintain good relations with European countries that are increasingly hostile to Jerusalem. But the one thing we can be sure it won’t do is to improve the chances for peace. By granting the Palestinians official recognition without first requiring them to make peace with Israel, Pope Francis and the Church have only made it less likely that this will ever happen.

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Israel’s critics will celebrate the news today that the Vatican will recognize Palestinian statehood as a rebuke of the Jewish state’s government and policies. The move is line with the international community’s push for Palestinian statehood. It also is part of the Vatican’s efforts to appease the Arab and Muslim worlds as part of a campaign to improve the plight of embattled and dwindling Christian communities in the Middle East. As such, its impact will be mostly symbolic though it will certainly be considered yet another blow to Israel’s uphill efforts to maintain good relations with European countries that are increasingly hostile to Jerusalem. But the one thing we can be sure it won’t do is to improve the chances for peace. By granting the Palestinians official recognition without first requiring them to make peace with Israel, Pope Francis and the Church have only made it less likely that this will ever happen.

It should not be forgotten that the Catholic Church has undergone a remarkable transformation in the last generation with regard to its attitude toward Jews, Judaism and the state of Israel. The historic efforts of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II created a revolution in Jewish-Catholic relations that consigned the disrespect and tolerance for anti-Semitism to the past. The Second Vatican Conference in 1961 broke with the past in terms of rejecting the myth of Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus and set the Church on the path of reconciliation with Judaism. Pope John Paul II continued that effort and under his tutelage Catholic educational efforts discarded the contempt for Judaism that had formerly characterized the Church’s attitude. He added to that legacy when the Vatican formerly recognized Israel in 1993, putting an end to the Church’s official opposition to Zionism that was rooted in a belief that the Jews were cursed to wander and had forfeited the right to their historic homeland.

Since then relations between the Jewish state and the church have not always been rosy. Disputes that stemmed from the anti-Israel attitudes of Palestinian Christians have continued to pop up. As part of an effort to ingratiate itself with Arab countries, the Church has also adopted policies that were hostile to Israel. It’s effort to wrongly blame the Israelis for the decline in the Palestinian Christian community — a trend that is the result of the growing influence of Islamists — has been particularly egregious. But despite all of that, it would be a mistake to consider the Church or the Vatican a particularly avid foe of Israel. Catholics around the world and especially those in the United States have become some of the Jewish state’s best friends and most staunch allies.

Moreover, it is likely that Pope Francis considers his gesture toward the Palestinians to be one intended to encourage peace. The pontiff seems to consider it an effort to be even-handed between the two parties to the conflict and is probably entirely sincere in his hopes that this move will jumpstart the moribund peace process.

But, for all of his good will, the pope is mistaken to think that giving the Palestinians such recognition will advance the peace process. To the contrary, by granting them official status in this way only encourages Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to continue to stonewall efforts to make peace.

After all, if Abbas’s real goal been an independent Palestinian state, he could have had one in 2000, 2001 when his former boss Yasir Arafat rejected an Israeli offer of statehood including almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem. Abbas rejected an even better offer in 2008 and then refused to negotiate seriously in 2013 and 2014 even after the Israelis had accepted an American framework whose goal was a two state solution.

The Palestinian campaign to get recognition from the United Nations and other countries is motivated by a desire to avoid peace talks, not to make them more successful. The Palestinians want a state but not one that is prepared to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state alongside it, not matter where its borders are drawn. By telling the Palestinians, the Church recognizes his faux state; it is making it easier for Abbas to refuse to negotiate. To the extent that this recognition grants the Palestinians rights to all of the disputed 1967 territories, the Vatican and other European states that have done the same thing, is prejudging negotiations that should be conducted by the parties, not outsiders.

Just as important, the Church ignores the fact that an independent Palestinian state in all but name already exists in Gaza under the tyrannical rule of Hamas terrorists. Which “Palestine” is the Church recognizing? Hamasistan or Fatah’s corrupt kleptocracy that Abbas presides over? With Hamas growing more popular, the prospect of it gaining power in an independent West Bank makes an Israeli withdrawal a fantasy rather than a viable policy option.

While no one should question the pope’s good intentions, the Vatican move will only serve to make peace less likely and do nothing for Middle East Christians who are under unbearable pressure from Islamists, not Israel. In this case, being even-handed undermines the already dwindling hopes for a two state solution.

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RE: J Street Comes Clean

J Street’s position on Jerusalem, detailed below by Jen Rubin, is a perfect example of why the proper way to understand the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization is as an export-import business. Bear with me for a moment.

There was a set of ideas about the Arab-Israeli conflict to which many people subscribed in the 80s and 90s. These ideas became the Oslo Accords. The Oslo Accords became an immense, catastrophic failure. Many people who were Oslo advocates, thus confronted with reality, changed their minds about the conflict (an obvious example is Benny Morris). Some Oslo advocates, however, did not, and adopted various theories to justify their continued membership in the peace-process-can-do-no-harm camp: the Israeli offers were never good enough, Sharon started the intifada, territorial withdrawal must come first, a conspiracy of neocons and AIPAC has always worked against peace, and so on. In 2000 in Lebanon and in 2005 in Gaza, territorial withdrawal was tried, and the results detonated a belief even deeper than Oslo, this one going all the way back to 1967 and perhaps even to 1948: the hope that land could be traded for peace and that the conflict is about borders, not Israel’s very existence.

These accumulated facts changed the attitude of Israelis in a dramatic way. The Oslo consensus disintegrated not only as an understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but as a political platform. In the early 90s, Labor and Meretz held a combined 56 Knesset seats. Today they have 16. Yet despite this political collapse in Israel, a few true believers still cling to the Oslo fantasy. How can these ideas survive their failure in the very place they’re supposed to be applied?

J Street, working with various Meretz has-beens in Israel, imports the ideas to America and tries to revive them here, where Jews are far less aware of their abysmal record of failure. J Street pushes them to the Obama administration, which is favorably disposed to them anyway. Here is where the exporting happens: Obama now seeks to impose them on an unreceptive Israel.

This is not just an insular story about Israeli-American-Jewish politics. It’s probably the major reason why there is so much conflict between the Obama and Netanyahu governments. The former is living on J Street, where it is not considered insane to demand that Israel relinquish the Western Wall, the most meaningful place in Judaism, to an “international force” (Israel should agree to this when the Pope and the Saudis surrender the Vatican and Mecca to an international force). The latter came to power as the culminating point of an Israeli consensus that understands the failures of the previous 17 years and rejects the ideas that J Street and the Obama administration are trying to force back to Israel. This is why J Street is, in its essence, a political export-import business.

J Street’s position on Jerusalem, detailed below by Jen Rubin, is a perfect example of why the proper way to understand the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization is as an export-import business. Bear with me for a moment.

There was a set of ideas about the Arab-Israeli conflict to which many people subscribed in the 80s and 90s. These ideas became the Oslo Accords. The Oslo Accords became an immense, catastrophic failure. Many people who were Oslo advocates, thus confronted with reality, changed their minds about the conflict (an obvious example is Benny Morris). Some Oslo advocates, however, did not, and adopted various theories to justify their continued membership in the peace-process-can-do-no-harm camp: the Israeli offers were never good enough, Sharon started the intifada, territorial withdrawal must come first, a conspiracy of neocons and AIPAC has always worked against peace, and so on. In 2000 in Lebanon and in 2005 in Gaza, territorial withdrawal was tried, and the results detonated a belief even deeper than Oslo, this one going all the way back to 1967 and perhaps even to 1948: the hope that land could be traded for peace and that the conflict is about borders, not Israel’s very existence.

These accumulated facts changed the attitude of Israelis in a dramatic way. The Oslo consensus disintegrated not only as an understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but as a political platform. In the early 90s, Labor and Meretz held a combined 56 Knesset seats. Today they have 16. Yet despite this political collapse in Israel, a few true believers still cling to the Oslo fantasy. How can these ideas survive their failure in the very place they’re supposed to be applied?

J Street, working with various Meretz has-beens in Israel, imports the ideas to America and tries to revive them here, where Jews are far less aware of their abysmal record of failure. J Street pushes them to the Obama administration, which is favorably disposed to them anyway. Here is where the exporting happens: Obama now seeks to impose them on an unreceptive Israel.

This is not just an insular story about Israeli-American-Jewish politics. It’s probably the major reason why there is so much conflict between the Obama and Netanyahu governments. The former is living on J Street, where it is not considered insane to demand that Israel relinquish the Western Wall, the most meaningful place in Judaism, to an “international force” (Israel should agree to this when the Pope and the Saudis surrender the Vatican and Mecca to an international force). The latter came to power as the culminating point of an Israeli consensus that understands the failures of the previous 17 years and rejects the ideas that J Street and the Obama administration are trying to force back to Israel. This is why J Street is, in its essence, a political export-import business.

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