Last week, the Vatican took a step to recognize a Palestinian state.
The move undermines the Vatican’s status as an instrument for peace, and will only provide greater incentive for the Palestinians to avoid coming to the negotiation table.
The Vatican’s move to recognize a Palestinian state is all the more baffling given the terrible experiences Christians have had to endure in Gaza and in Yehudah and Shomron. Since Hamas took power in Gaza, Christian-owned stores and schools have been firebombed. The owner of Gaza’s only Christian bookstore was murdered, and in 2008, the YMCA was blown up. Christians have been pressured to adopt Islamic forms of dress, such as headscarves. There have even been reports of forced conversions of Christians to Islam.
The plight of Christians in Yehudah an Shomron hasn’t been much better than of those in Gaza. In Bethlehem, the Christian population has been steadily dwindling under Palestinian rule. Whereas 60 years ago, Christians comprised 80 percent of the city’s population, they now make up only 20 percent of the city’s residents. Arab gangs have routinely confiscated Christian land. In order to intimidate Christian worshipers, Muslims have placed their prayer mats in front of Christian houses of worship.
Some experts predict that 10 years from now, Bethlehem will be devoid of Christians.
The persecution of Christians at the hands of Arab governments should come as no surprise. Christians, along with other religious minorities in the Middle East, are undergoing relentless persecution and oppression. According to Amnesty International, in Egypt, 207 churches were attacked and 43 were destroyed. In Syria, there is a massive exodus of Christians fleeing to Turkey, forced out by the factions battling President Assad’s forces. The only country in the Middle East where the Christian population can worship without fear of persecution or oppression is Israel.
If the Vatican truly wants to represent itself as an upholder of the principles of peace, democracy and human rights, why is it recognizing Hamas and the Palestinian Authority as legitimate governments when they are entirely antithetical to those values? The EU, Canada, Japan and the U.S. all have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization. While Israel seeks to find a partner with whom to negotiate peace, Hamas’s charter unequivocally calls for the destruction of Israel.
And what kind of message is the Vatican sending when it legitimizes the government of the Palestinian Authority, a brutal, repressive and corrupt regime? President Mahmoud Abbas has been in power for 11 years, even though he was only elected to a four-year term. Amnesty International has criticized the P.A. for torturing its political opponents with “impunity.” The Vatican is not performing an act of justice to the Palestinians by recognizing a government that has no independent judiciary nor protects freedom of speech.
What’s more shocking has been the pope’s reference to Abbas as an “angel of peace” when they met in the Vatican on Saturday. Abbas is no angel.
This so-called “angel of peace” is the same man who sent a condolence letter to the family of the terrorist who attempted to murder Rabbi Yehuda Glick. In the letter, Abbas praised the terrorist as a “martyr” and a “hero.” In addition, Abbas has transferred millions of dollars to the accounts of terrorist prisoners in Israeli jails, in effect condoning the murder of innocent civilians. Abbas is as much a true angel as the tooth fairy.
The Vatican’s latest stance calls into question the sincerity of all its stated aims toward stemming the tide of rising worldwide anti-Semitism and repudiating its own long history of fanning the flames of Jew hatred. Recognizing an entity that vows to destroy Israel and has indiscriminately tried to kill as many Jews as possible casts doubts on whether the Vatican has ever fully atoned for its lack of effort in saving Jews during the Holocaust. But this recognition of a terrorist state is not only a blow to Jews and Israel; it’s another defeat of the principles of freedom, democracy and human rights.