Pope Francis is a man on a mission. But what is his mission exactly? The rhetoric and body language, the gracious gestures, the smiles and salutations give the impression of a selfless liberator determined to broker peace, cooperation and tranquility.
But take a closer look at his decisions and actions. In actuality, the Vatican is creating tension, disunity and instability that are likely to lead to conflict and war.
The pope’s recent stance on the Arab-Israeli conflict is a perfect example.
On May 13, the Vatican announced that it had formally recognized the “state of Palestine” in a newly finalized treaty with the Palestinians. (Pope Francis and the Vatican had previously supported the “state of Palestine,” but never formally like this). The treaty defined the Catholic Church’s activities in areas controlled by the Palestinians and was signed by both sides on May 16, when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas visited the Vatican.
During Abbas’s visit, the pope effectively gave his approval of all the acts of terror committed by the Palestinian leader and his followers, even telling the Palestinian terrorist leader, “You are an angel of peace,” according to the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.
Critics of Israel and backers of Palestinian statehood were elated by the Vatican’s announcement. The movement to recognize a Palestinian state has gained momentum in recent years, particularly within the United Nations, and this endorsement from the Vatican is huge. Gaining the support of humanity’s most respected and admired leader could be just the boost needed to get the project of Palestinian statehood over the finish line.
For the Jewish state and its declining number of supporters, the Vatican’s decision was an enormous blow. “This move does not promote the peace process and distances the Palestinian leadership from returning to direct and bilateral negotiations,” Israel’s foreign minister said in a text message to the Associated Press.
Indeed. In return for its vital support of Palestinian statehood, the Vatican required absolutely nothing from the Palestinians. There was no requirement of the Palestinian Authority to sincerely engage in peace talks with Israel, no demand that it recognize Israel’s right to exist, and no demand that it sever its connection with Hamas and publicly renounce Hamas’s ambitions. Nothing. As Melanie Phillips noted in the Jerusalem Post on May 14, the Vatican’s recognition “tears up the Palestinians’ own treaty obligations under the Oslo Accords,” and thus “has now openly made Catholics complicit with reneging on promises and shattering bonds of trust.”
“[T]he one thing we can be sure it won’t do is to improve the chances for peace,” explained Jonathon Tobin, senior online editor for Commentary magazine. “By granting the Palestinians official recognition without first requiring them to make peace with Israel, Pope Francis and the church have only made it less likely that this will ever happen” (May 13; emphasis added throughout). Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, released a statement saying that the Vatican’s action “serves to undermine the only real solution to the decades-old conflict.”
Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, warned that the Vatican’s endorsement of Palestinian statehood is a sign of the resurgence of “the historical Catholic enmity towards Jews.” Michael Freund, former deputy communications director in the Israeli prime minister’s office, also put it in dramatic terms in the Jerusalem Post. “[G]iven its sordid history of anti-Semitism, book-burnings, forced conversions and Inquisitions, the Catholic Church should think a hundred times over before daring to step on Israel’s toes,” he wrote. “If anything, the pope should be down on his knees pleading for forgiveness from the Jewish people and atonement from the Creator for what the Vatican has wrought over the centuries” (May 18).
The Israeli-Palestinian peace process is destined to end in conflict—and the Vatican’s decision brings that day nearer.
A Message to Bibi
The timing of the Vatican’s announcement is also interesting. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reelected in March. Only a week before the Vatican’s announcement, Netanyahu finalized a coalition government that will be more hardline than the previous. In the months ahead, Israel’s government—justifiably, reasonably and wisely—will continue to be extremely cautious about any sort of peace deal with the Palestinians. Prime Minister Netanyahu is trying to slow the momentum toward Palestinian statehood, convince nations that the PA cannot be trusted, and persuade the international community to demand more security guarantees from the Palestinians in return for statehood. The Vatican’s announcement undermines all this and makes Netanyahu’s job much more difficult. It was a veiled message to Israel’s new conservative government: Don’t get too excited, and don’t get too comfortable.
The Vatican’s behavior is not without precedent. Recall the Balkan wars, scenes of which dominated our television screens during the early 1990s. The Vatican, together with Germany, played a key role in instigating Yugoslavia’s dissolution and the long and brutal conflicts that erupted. How? By being one of the first to formally recognize—despite strong opposition from the United States, the European Union and the United Nations—the breakaway regions of Croatia and Slovenia as independent and sovereign states. Most of the international community dutifully followed along. Within months, the Balkan Peninsula was on fire. (Learn more about this history by requesting a free copy of our booklet Germany’s Conquest of the Balkans.)
Will we see similar tension and conflict erupt in Israel as a result of the Vatican’s support of the Palestinians? It seems inevitable.
Consider also that Pope Francis and the Vatican seem to be supporting Muslim control of parts of Jerusalem.
There hasn’t been a single moment in the past 2,000 years when the Vatican sincerely endorsed Muslim control of Jerusalem. There have, however, been multiple occasions when the Vatican riled up Catholic warriors and dispatched them to the Holy Land to wrest control of it from the Muslims. Why would Pope Francis reject two millennia of Catholic history—even rejecting Catholic doctrine and tradition—and support Muslim sovereignty in the Holy Land?
The obvious truth is that Pope Francis and the Vatican do not support the presence of Muslims in Jerusalem any more than they do the presence of Jews. There are two simple reasons that the Vatican, for now, is making it appear that it supports a Palestinian state and greater Muslim influence over Jerusalem.
First, supporting the Palestinians undermines Israel’s control over the Holy Land. When it comes to diminishing Israel’s grip on Jerusalem and its holy sites, the Vatican is quite happy for the Palestinians to do the gritty work. An honest assessment of Palestinian leadership and governance, at least until now, reveals endemic corruption, mismanagement, infighting and internal strife. A sound-minded, fact-based, objective analysis reveals that the Palestinians have almost zero chance of ever successfully creating a stable, prosperous, safe Palestinian state in Israel. The Vatican knows that any future Palestinian state would be unstable and chaotic—and thus much more susceptible to Vatican meddling than Israel is today.
Second, the Vatican’s endorsement of Palestinian statehood provides ideal cover as it pursues its own enduring ambition to wrest control of Jerusalem from the Jews and Muslims.
Four years ago, Italian journalist Giulio Meotti, writing for Arutz Sheva, explained how Catholic authorities had at that time “increased their political initiatives for Catholic control over some sites in Jerusalem.” He recalled, for example, how the head of the Vatican’s Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, had said, “Peace negotiations in the Middle East must tackle the issue of the status of the holy sites of Jerusalem.” According to Tauran, the time had arrived for some of Jerusalem’s holy places, including the City of David, to be put under Vatican charge. After all, “it’s practically just the Holy See who is concerned about [the question of the holy sites],” Tauran stated.
Admissions like this are rare. It’s not often that we read about the Vatican’s love for Jerusalem and its quest for more control. But it is there, and it is thriving. The Vatican is not the non-threatening, neutral third party it appears to be—though so much of the news media believes it is. History shows that Jerusalem is as important to the Vatican as it is to Jews and Muslims. For Catholics, Jerusalem is the birthplace of Christianity and the setting of many important biblical events. The Holy City, as Catholic dogma states, is its universal headquarters.
Does anyone really think the Vatican genuinely wants to cede control of these sites to Muslims? The Catholic Church has shed the blood of hundreds of thousands of soldiers trying to take the Holy Land from Muslims.
Power Play for Jerusalem
We must look past the handshakes and platitudes, and really think about what is going on here. This decision is part of a Trojan horse strategy by which the Vatican seeks to gain the trust of the Palestinians and international community before more actively staking its claim to Jerusalem and its holy sites. Whatever happens, the last thing we can expect is for the Vatican to stand by and cheer as Muslims assume control of Christianity’s holy sites. That is never going to happen.
Putting Jerusalem under “international” control has been the Vatican’s strategy for decades. In 1949, the British plenipotentiary minister (essentially, the ambassador) to the Vatican, John Victor Perowne, wrote, “The Vatican would have preferred, from the point of view of the fate of the holy places and of Catholic interests in Palestine generally, that neither Jews nor Arabs, but a third power, should have control in the Holy Land. Such a solution it well knew, however, was unattainable, and in the actual circumstances it preferred the Arabs to the Jews.”
It’s true that Europeans and their leaders aren’t especially fond of Jews and the Jewish state. Then again, Germany, at least its chancellor, is arguably the closest friend and ally Israel has right now. Expect Israel to cry out to Germany for assistance.
This is precisely the response the Vatican is seeking. The European Union and the Vatican both have the same official goal for Jerusalem. They want it to be an international city—controlled neither by Jews nor Arabs, but rather by some third party.
Why does the Vatican want this? In his book Christians and Jews—Faith to Faith, Rabbi James Rudin wrote that the Eastern Orthodox churches that own the majority of Jerusalem’s sacred Christian sites oppose internationalizing the city because it “would give greater control of Jerusalem’s Christian sites and institutions to the Roman Catholic Church, which has significant influence in Europe and the Western Hemisphere.”
It doesn’t take much imagination to see the Vatican being given the chief seat in how an “international” Jerusalem is governed.
Israel is dead against this right now. But as it becomes more isolated and its situation becomes desperate, its resolve will start to crumble.
Of course, this is just one possible scenario. However it happens, the Vatican’s ambitions in Jerusalem are well documented. It desperately seeks greater control over Jerusalem, and every step it takes in its diplomacy with Israel and the Palestinian Arabs is dedicated to this end.