“Pope Francis Refers to ‘State of Palestine’ on Holy Land Trip, Calls Mahmoud Abbas a ‘Man of Peace,’” Associated Press, May 25, 2014:
JERUSALEM (AP) — Pope Francis delivered a powerful boost of support to the Palestinians during a Holy Land pilgrimage Sunday, repeatedly backing their statehood aspirations, praying solemnly at Israel’s controversial separation barrier and calling the stalemate in peace efforts “unacceptable.”
Palestinian officials hailed Francis’ decision to refer to the “state of Palestine.” In its official program, the Vatican referred to President Mahmoud Abbas as the president of the “state of Palestine,” and his Bethlehem office as the “presidential palace.” He pointedly called Abbas a “man of peace.”
Pope Francis Refers to State of Palestine on Holy Land Trip, Calls Mahmoud Abbas a Man of Peace
On the second day of a three-day swing through the region, the pope arrived in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christianity, before heading to Israel for the final leg of his visit.
Even the pope’s arrival in Bethlehem — by helicopter straight from Jordan — carried important symbolic significance. Past papal visits to the West Bank previously have come through Israel, which captured the territory in the 1967 Mideast war.
“Coming to Bethlehem and flying to Bethlehem from Jordan shows solidarity with the Palestinian people, which is wonderful. We need that,” said Samar Sakkakin, a 52-year-old Palestinian American from Canton, Michigan.
In November 2012, the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly recognized a “state of Palestine” in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem — lands Israel captured in the 1967 war — as a non-member observer. Israel objects to the Palestinian campaign, saying it is an attempt to bypass negotiations.
“I am with you,” he told a group of Palestinian children at a stop in Bethlehem’s Deheishe refugee camp. He also held a private lunch with five Palestinian families who say they have been harmed by Israeli policies.
Jubilant Palestinians cheered Francis as he arrived in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, shouting “Viva al-Baba!” or “Long live the pope!” Giant Palestinian flags in red, white, green and black and the Vatican’s yellow-and-white flags decorated the square, which is home to the Church of the Nativity, built over the grotto where many Christians believe Jesus was born.
Francis’ arrival came weeks after the latest round of U.S.-backed peace talks collapsed. During nine months of negotiations, little — if any — progress was made, and there are no signs of talks resuming anytime soon.
Standing alongside Abbas at a welcome ceremony, Francis declared: “The time has come to put an end to this situation, which has become increasingly unacceptable.”
He said both sides needed to make sacrifices to create two states, with internationally recognized borders, based on mutual security and rights for everyone. He urged both sides to refrain from any actions that would derail peace.
In his remarks, Abbas voiced his concerns about the recent breakdown in peace efforts and lamented the difficult conditions facing the Palestinians.
Abbas said he would welcome papal intervention. “We welcome any initiative from you to make peace a reality in the Holy Land,” Abbas said….