During a visit to Bethlehem in the occupied Palestinian territories, the head of the Catholic Church Pope Francis openly endorsed “the State of Palestine”, calling for “an end to this situation that has become increasingly unacceptable.”
The pope expressed his support for a two-state solution during a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. “The time has come for everyone to find the courage… to forge a peace that rests on the acknowledgment by all of the right of two states to exist and to live in peace and security within internationally recognised borders,” Francis said in his meeting with Palestinian authorities.
The pope’s West Bank visit followed his visit to Jordan, where he praised the Jordanians for welcoming Syria’s refugees into their country. Pope Francis then took a direct flight from Jordan to Bethlehem, making him the first pope to arrive in the West Bank without first passing through Israel, in what is seen by some as a symbolic show of support to the Palestinians.
“The fact that he came straight from Jordan is a sign that the Pope sees Palestine as a state,” said Ilias Abdo, a Christian clergyman from Bethlehem. “That was a deliberate decision – it was not by chance. This is a political visit as much as a religious one. He is hinting at recognition of an independent Palestinian state.”
During his visit, the pope made an unscheduled stop to pray at the Bethlehem wall the Israelis built to divide Israel from the West Bank. “He got down from the Popemobile and walked up to the wall,” said Vatican spokesman Rev Federico Lombardi. “He remained there for some minutes, praying silently. He then touched the wall with his forehead.”
The Vatican has expressed its support for a UN resolution that makes Palestine a non-member observer state, a status shared by the Vatican itself, but is opposed by the US and Israel.