After our story “Nostra Aetate 50 years later” was published in last week’s Jewish Standard, the Vatican issued two statements that we would have recognized there had they come out even days earlier.
The first was the church’s announcement that it is about to sign a treaty that will recognize the “state of Palestine.” Although the decision to recognize the state was not new, the move to do so officially was.
Our story focused on Rabbi Noam Marans of Teaneck, the American Jewish Committee’s director of interreligious and intergroup relations. Like much of the rest of the organized Jewish world, the AJC has responded to the church’s decision with sadness and dismay. Its formal response came from its executive director, David Harris.
“Formal Vatican recognition of Palestine, a state that, in reality, does not yet exist, is a regrettable move, counterproductive to all who seek true peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” Mr. Harris said.
“There is a reason why the U.S., the European Union and others have long agreed that statehood can only be achieved through direct, bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Meanwhile, the West Bank is ruled by the Palestinian Authority, whose leader, Mahmoud Abbas, just marked the tenth anniversary of what was meant to be a four-year term, and Gaza is governed by Hamas, a terrorist organization. What and where exactly is the ‘State of Palestine’ today?”
“We are fully cognizant of the Pope’s good will and desire to be a voice for peaceful coexistence, which is best served, we believe, by encouraging a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, rather than unilateral gestures outside the framework of the negotiating table,” Mr. Harris concluded.
A few days later, the pope was quoted as having called Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, an “angel of peace,” although there is some dispute over whether those actually were his words, and over what those words might mean.
Here, Rabbi Marans responds to them:
“Pope Francis is a friend of the Jewish people and an activist in furthering the historic progress in Catholic-Jewish relations.
“The question is not whether Pope Francis actually called Mahmoud Abbas an ‘angel of peace’ or rather prayed that he might become an ‘angel of peace,’ or whether the Vatican actually recognized the ‘State of Palestine’ for the first time or rather affirmed an ongoing Vatican diplomatic position.
“The question is whether the Vatican’s support of the Palestinian bid for statehood outside the confines of direct, bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is the right path. It is not. That’s why the U.S., the European Union and others actively support resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
“Encouraging Palestinian unilateralism is not the path to peace.”