Pope Francis met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas over the weekend, calling him “an angel of peace,” days after the Vatican announced a treaty that formalized its recognition of a Palestinian state.
Israel did not comment on Francis’ “angel of peace” remark, but said that Abbas was using the trip to score political points.
“It is regrettable that Mahmoud Abbas uses international forums to attack Israel and refrains from returning to negotiations, which is the right way to implement a political vision and a solution of peace,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon.
The pope and Abbas met for around 20 minutes and were due to meet again later on Sunday.
On Wednesday, the Vatican announced it would shortly sign an agreement with the Palestinians on issues including the status of the Catholic church in their territory.
In a statement, the Vatican said Pope Francis and Abbas had spoken about the peace process with Israel and had expressed the hope that direct contacts between Israel and the Palestinians could resume soon.
Although symbolic, the move could have significant impact on world opinion.
“It’s a big deal because the pope is the spiritual leader of hundreds of millions of Christians,” Eytan Gilboa of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University told The Media Line. “Christians are being murdered all over the Middle East but what is important for him is the particular recognition of Palestine.”
Other observers played down the development.
“This has basically been Vatican policy all along,” said Amiel Ungar, an Israeli commentator. “The big enchilada is how much the Obama administration is behind the European moves,” a reference to a French proposal for a UN Security Council resolution to recognize a Palestinian state, which is in the works.