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The Pope, Palestine and papal politics

By David Singer - posted Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Pope Benedict XVI's appointment of Archbishop Fouad Twal as the new Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem to succeed recently retired Archbishop Michael Sabbah - after 21 years in that position - signals a significant change of course by the Vatican in its relationship with the Jewish State.

Archbishop Twal becomes the second Palestinian Arab to be appointed - after Archbishop Sabbah - as head of the Roman Catholic Church in Jerusalem.

However their Palestinian lineage and political heritage have taken markedly different routes.


Archbishop Sabbah was born in Western Palestine in Nazareth in 1933 - growing up and spending his entire life in that part of Palestine that witnessed the political struggle by the Jews that had begun in 1917 to reconstitute the Jewish National Home in Palestine - and culminated in the birth of Israel in 1948 in just 17 per cent of Palestine.

Archbishop Twal was born in Eastern Palestine in Madaba in 1940 - growing up in that part of Palestine in which Jewish rights to settle or constitute their National Home were postponed or withheld - culminating in the Mandatory Power - Great Britain - granting independence in 77 per cent of Palestine in 1946 to the totally Palestinian Arab population living there - today called Jordan.

Archbishop Twal's appointment must be seen as an attempt by the Pope to heal the serious rift in relationships between Israel and the Vatican that had sunk to their lowest ebb ever by the end of 2007.

In November 2007 a former Holy See envoy to Jerusalem - Monsignor Pietro Sambri - complained that relations with Israel had been better before an historic agreement was signed between the Holy See and Israel in 1993 - recognising the State of Israel 45 years after its establishment. Monsignor Sambri listed a number of complaints - the failure to ease travel restrictions for Catholic clerics, threatened taxes on the Church and the status of expropriated Church property.

His complaints were mild in the face of what was to come when Archbishop Sabbah delivered this Christmas message on December 19, 2007 questioning Israel's legitimacy to exist as the Jewish State:

In recent times, there has been some talk about creating "religious" States in this land. But in this land, which is holy for three religions and for two peoples, religious States cannot be established because they would exclude or place in an inferior position the believers of the other religions … [Political leaders] must know that the holiness of this land does not consist in the exclusion of one or the other of the religions, but in the ability of each religion, with all of their difference, to welcome, respect, and love all who inhabit this land.


The Archbishop was not directing his call to the Palestinian Authority's Basic Law that declares "Islam is the official religion of Palestine" and calls for 450,000 Jews to be thrown out of the West Bank. He was not sending his message to Jordan whose constitution declares that "Islam shall be the religion of the State" and where Jews are not permitted to live.

The Archbishop was unabashedly espousing the right of return for millions of Palestinian Arabs - overwhelmingly Muslim - and their descendants into the Jewish State - Israel.

This uncompromising demand has been war cry of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Arab League for the last 40 years and has wrecked any prospects by America, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations - the Quartet - to attempt to create a new Arab State between Israel and Jordan.

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About the Author

David Singer is an Australian Lawyer, a Foundation Member of the International Analyst Network and Convenor of Jordan is Palestine International - an organisation calling for sovereignty of the West Bank and Gaza to be allocated between Israel and Jordan as the two successor States to the Mandate for Palestine. Previous articles written by him can be found at

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