Pope Francis hosted joint prayers at the Vatican with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas, on June 8 as he promised during his pilgrimage to the Middle East last month. The unprecedented meeting raised hope for a revival of the peace negotiations between Israeli and Palestinians, despite Pope Francis’ repeated statements that the Vatican is not seeking to get involved in peace negotiations between Israeli and Palestinians, and it should not be expected any Vatican mediation in the conflict.
Pope Francis led the prayers on Sunday at the Vatican the two leaders in a gesture he said is meant to foster dialogue. The meeting took place in the Vatican’s gardens and was also attended by a group of clerics and representatives of the world’s main monotheistic religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The spiritual head of the Orthodox Christians, Patriarch Bartholomew, was also present. The prayers focused on themes common to the three religions: “creation”, “invocation for forgiveness” and “invocation for peace.” “Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare,” Pope Francis said, adding „more than once we have been on the verge of peace, but the evil one, employing a variety of means, has succeeded in blocking it.” After the prayer they shook hands and planted an olive tree in a sign of peace.
No concrete results are expected from this meeting as Peres has no decision-making role in Israeli diplomacy, and he leaves office at the end of the month. Reuters reported Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the key Israeli decision-maker, who did not attend the joint prayers meeting, refuses to deal with the new Palestinian unity government, that Palestinian leader swore in last Monday. Furthermore, he declined any direct comment on the meeting. However, on Sunday at a paramilitary police base in Jerusalem he suggested that prayer is no substitute for security, according to Reuters. “For thousands of years, the people of Israel have prayed for peace daily. But until peace comes, we will continue to strengthen you so that you can continue to defend the State of Israel. Ultimately, that is what will guarantee our future and will also bring peace,” Netanyahu said.
Even if it might not lead to a concrete result, the symbolic inter-religious dialogue the Pope orchestrated can prove to be a building block for unfreezing the peace talks between Israel and Palestinians.