POPE FRANCIS has called on the leaders of Israel and the
Palestinians to summon up the courage needed to make peace in the
He was speaking last Sunday during a meeting with the Israeli
President, Shimon Peres, and the Palestinian President, Mahmoud
Abbas, in the Vatican.
Two weeks ago, during his visit to the Holy Land, the Pope
invited the two men to Rome to pray together for peace.
Pope Francis, greeting the two leaders in the Vatican gardens,
said that peacemaking "calls for courage, much more so than
warfare. It calls for the courage to say yes to encounter and no to
conflict: yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations
and no to hostilities; yes to respect for agreements and no to acts
of provocation; yes to sincerity and no to duplicity. All of this
takes courage; it takes strength and tenacity."
History had proved, the Pope said, that human strength alone was
not enough. More than once "we have been on the verge of peace, but
the Evil One, employing a variety of means, has succeeded in
blocking it. That is why we are here, because we know and we
believe that we need the help of God.
"We do not renounce our responsibilities, but we do call upon
God in an act of supreme responsibility before our consciences and
before our peoples."
The Pope said that it was the duty of all to respond to God's
summons "to break the spiral of hatred and violence, and to break
it by one word alone: the word 'brother'. But to be able to utter
this word we have to lift our eyes to heaven, and acknowledge one
another as children of one Father."
President Peres said: "It is within our power to bring peace to
our children. This is our duty, the holy mission of parents. Two
peoples - Israelis and Palestinians - still are aching for peace.
The tears of mothers over their children are still etched in our
"We must put an end to the cries, to the violence, to the
conflict. We all need peace. Peace between equals."
For his part, President Abbas called on God to bring a
"comprehensive and just peace" to the region. He also quoted the
words of St John Paul II: "If peace is realised in Jerusalem, peace
will be witnessed in the whole world." The Palestinians, he said,
wanted "peace for us and for our neighbours".
At present, however, no mechanism is in place for peace talks to
resume - the latest US-brokered talks broke down in April.
Furthermore, the formation last week of a new Palestinian
government, compromising representatives from both Fatah and Hamas,
after years of mutual hostility between the two, could present
another obstacle in the form of Israel's subsequent refusal to deal
with the Palestinian leadership.
The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that Mr
Abbas "chose Hamas, and not peace. Whoever chooses Hamas does not
want peace." A government spokesman said the Palestinian leader was
"embracing extremists who not only Israel, butthe international
community, has called a terrorist organisation".
The Israeli Housing Ministry responded to the creation of the
new government by announcing plans for 900 new settlement homes in
the West Bank, and 500 in East Jerusalem. The Housing Minister, Uri
Ariel, said that they were an "appropriate Zionist response to the
Palestinian terror government".
But the Justice Minister, Tzipi Livni, Israel's chief negotiator
with the Palestinians, said that the settlement plan was a
"political mistake" that would "only distance us from the ability
to recruit the world against Hamas".
Indeed, Mr Peres's decision to meet Mr Abbas in the Vatican is a
sign that senior figures in Israel disapprove of the government's
decision to boycott the Palestinian leadership.