Pope Francis on Palestine

by Maureen Fiedler

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Strange as it may seem, I first heard the news of Pope Francis’ formal recognition of the state of Palestine in an e-mail from Tikkun magazine, a progressive weekly Jewish publication. Rabbi Michael Lerner, the editor of Tikkun, was thrilled: “Mazel tov -- congratulations -- to this inspired Pope as he continues his blessed work!” 

Then, I got an email from an Episcopalian friend of mine who praised the decision on Palestine, saying: “About this Pope of yours … If he would just get his act together about women, I might even become a Catholic.”

And although you’d never know it from news broadcasts, many in the American Jewish community favor Palestinian statehood and are not happy with the policies espoused by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

This is yet another important foreign policy opening initiated by Francis. As most NCR readers know, he was the key “broker” in opening a new chapter in U.S. relations with Cuba. (After that decision, no less a figure than Raul Castro suggested he might begin praying again and return to his Catholic faith!)    

Conversions aside, these efforts provide concrete and important evidence that Francis is interested in doing whatever he can -- as creatively as he can -- to end old conflicts and foster peace in the world. To which I say, “Three cheers!”

The U.S. embargo and travel ban against Cuba had been lingering needlessly for decades. But it had not spawned any wars or large scale violence. It was, perhaps, a bit easier to handle.

But the Israeli/Palestinian situation has been steaming — and periodically boiling over — since before the inception of the state of Israel in 1948. It has been the site of periodic wars, deep hatreds and bloodshed over decades, and the situation just now is tense in the extreme after the wars in Gaza, and the treatment of Gaza as a virtual prison for millions of Palestinians. 

It is long past time for the United States to join Pope Francis and recognize the state of Palestine. Yes, the political obstacles may be formidable, but they are not insurmountable. Insofar as these obstacles can be found in the Jewish community (but not exclusively there), the times … they are a-changin’. Tikkun is not alone in the Jewish community in welcoming this latest move by Francis. As Lerner said, “Many liberal and progressive Jews congratulate the Vatican on the important step toward peace it took yesterday in announcing that it will recognize the State of Palestine.” May their voices be heard.      

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