05/30/2014, 00.00
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Hopes and scepticism greet pope's Vatican meeting with Peres and Abbas

by Joshua Lapide
The prayer meeting is set for 8 June. It will not entail any political mediation but will include a rabbi and an imam. For many Palestinians, the proposal brings their needs back to centre stage. Many Israelis are sceptical in view of the failed US mission to revive talks. Some remember the effectiveness of prayer in the prayer vigil for Syria on 7 September.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - Hope (especially on the Palestinian side) and scepticism (especially among Israelis) have greeted the prayer meeting announced for the Vatican on 8 June, when Pope Francis will meet Presidents Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas.

During his recent trip to the Holy Land, the pope offered his "home" as the venue for a "heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace" between Israel and Palestine and the Middle East region.

Yesterday evening, the Vatican Press Office announced the date, and stressed that it was accepted "by both sides."

In the Mass celebrated in Bethlehem, Pope Francis publicly invited Abbas, saying that "Building peace is difficult, but living without peace is a constant torment". He did the same the next day during his meeting with Shimon Peres.

On his flight back to Rome, the pope told reporters that the meeting in the Vatican, which will include a rabbi and an imam, "is to pray together, it's not a mediation".

In Israel, the meeting's spiritual character is viewed with scepticism and suspicions because after nine months of diplomatic work, the United States has failed to jumpstart diplomatic talks between Israel and Palestine.

Peace activist Uri Avneri said that even President Barack Obama has lost hope and decided to let the Israeli and Palestinian leaders "stew in their own juice" of stonewalling and mutual recrimination.

Among Israeli Jews, little has been said in part because peace talks tend to cause the most extremist settlers to raise their voice against any negotiation.

Some believe that the pope is too pro-Palestinian. An Israeli government official said that the pope went too far when he touched the wall separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem.

In an opinion piece in Haaretz on Wednesday, Peter Beinart, said that Pope Francis' language represents a change in the Israel-Palestine issue because he did not speak only about peace or an end to the fighting but also about "justice. "

For Francis, justice means equal rights to a homeland, freedom of movement and voting rights for Palestinians in Israel and a future State of Palestine. For Palestinians, this is a source of hope.

"At least the Pope pushes forward," said a resident in Bethlehem. "He is not stuck the way international diplomacy is. He has made Palestinian needs centre stage again."

Others however remain sceptical. For one resident in the Occupied Territories praying is not enough: "We want some political results."

Still, some Palestinian Christians remember the effectiveness of Francis' prayer call for Syria on 7 September, which stopped an attack by Western powers against Syria. "We hope that some miracle will happen for us," they said.

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See also
Pope in Palestine: “I offer my home in the Vatican" for a prayer meeting between the presidents of Israel and Palestine
Pope: We call upon God in an act of supreme responsibility before our consciences and before our peoples
Peres and Abbas accept Francis' invitation
Politicians and military employees resist Netanyahu "vendetta" against new Palestinian government
Pope to pray for peace in the Holy Land with Peres and Abbas this Sunday


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