A bishop surveys the construction of a separation wall in Palestine’s Cremisan Valley, Jan. 17, 2017. Credit: Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk.
Ahead of possible Israeli action to annex Palestinian territories, Holy See Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin met with the ambassadors of the United States and Israel.
The Holy See press office said that the meetings with Callista Gringrich, the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, and Oren David, her Israeli counterpart, took place “in order to express the concern of the Holy See regarding possible unilateral actions that may further jeopardize the search for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as the delicate situation in the Middle East.”
A spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See told CNA July 2: “Ambassador Gingrich had a productive meeting with Cardinal Secretary of State Parolin on Tuesday. They discussed a range of issues, including our common goal of peace in the Middle East.”
In its statement on Wednesday, the Holy See reiterated that Israel and the State of Palestine “have the right to exist and to live in peace and security, within internationally recognized borders.”
“It thus appeals to the parties to do everything possible to reopen the process of direct negotiation, on the basis of the relevant resolutions of the United Nations, and aided by measures that can reestablish reciprocal confidence,” said the Holy See Press Office.
Citing Pope Francis’ 8 June 2014, prayer for peace in the Holy Land, the press office said all actions should be taken so that the parties may have “the courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict: yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities; yes to respect for agreements and no to acts of provocation; yes to sincerity and no to duplicity.”
1 July was a possible start date for annexation, but no action was taken. There was no agreement with the United States to move forward,
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, a member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, said he thought annexation “will happen in the coming weeks or months, but I am not versed in the details,” Reuters reported.
A Netanyahu aide said talks with Washington were continuing. The prime minister had consulted Israeli defence officials 1 July and more discussions would be held in coming days.
Early in June Netanyahu said he intended to annex all West Bank settlements 1 July, the earliest date allowed under a deal agreed by the country’s new ruling coalition. According to the Times of Israel, this would mean that the government would extend Israeli sovereignty to around 3% of West Bank territory, comprising 132 settlements that are home to an estimated 450,000 Israelis.
Netanyahu was sworn in for his fourth term as the head of Israel’s government in the Knesset on 17 May. In his campaign, Netanyahu promised annexation of the West Bank.
The power-sharing deal between the Israeli leaders included the possibility of annexation this summer with the approval of the Israeli parliament and the Trump administration, according to Foreign Policy magazine.
Palestinian leaders, the United Nations, and European and Arab countries oppose unilateral action from Israel and consider Israeli settlements on land captured in 1967 to be illegal, Reuters reports. Israelis who back annexation cite biblical, historical and political roots in the West Bank territory.
President Donald Trump’s proposal for peace calls for the creation of a Palestinian state but gives Israel sovereignty over 30% of the West Bank. The Palestinians reject this.
On 20 May, the Holy See reaffirmed its support of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, and respect for the borders internationally recognized before 1967.
The Holy See expressed hope that the Israelis and Palestinians will be able to directly negotiate an agreement with the help of the international community that will lead to peace – “so that peace may finally reign in the Holy Land, so beloved by Jews and Christians and Muslims,” the Holy See said then.
In response to talk that Israel would extend sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared that the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Palestinian state would no longer be bound by the peace and security agreements with the Israeli and American governments, including the Oslo peace process.
The PLO’s chief negotiator appealed to the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States in a mid-May phone call.
Saeb Erekat, the PLO leader who negotiated the Oslo Accords, called Archbishop Paul Gallagher to say that “the possibility of Israel applying its sovereignty unilaterally” in the Palestinian territories would be “further jeopardizing” to the peace process.
In early May, Catholic bishops, Orthodox patriarchs, and Protestant leaders in the Holy Land published a letter raising concerns that Israel’s unilateral annexation plans “would bring about the loss of any remaining hope for the success of the peace process.”
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the highest-ranking clergyman in the Church of England, issued a joint statement opposing annexation.
Courtney Mares contributed to this report.