Last Sunday, Pope Francis, Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres joined in an historic meeting at the Vatican for a united commitment for peace in the Middle East.
Following prayers from Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish clergy, the three world leaders each offered statements for peace in the Palestine and Israel conflict. After the U.S.-led diplomacy talks fell apart over a month ago, this week’s meeting proved that a religious-based dialogue may actually better further discussions than nationally focused ones. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and and Israeli President Shimon Peres shared a warm embrace upon meeting at the Vatican with an appreciative Pope Francis looking on with a smile. While the meeting at the Vatican was not one of negotiations, it did seem to help assuage some tensions between the two sides as well as portrayed both leaders as committed to more peaceful proceedings in the future.
However, even though Pope Francis, Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres all proclaimed their commitments to peace, presidents Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres notably did not make any concessions to compromise. Similarly, the Vatican announced beforehand that this would not be a meeting for negotiations but a meeting for the higher calling of peace. Pope Francis echoed this worthwhile goal stating, “I hope that this meeting will be a journey toward what joins us, to overcome what divides us.”
Many understand that the event, while commendable, will not likely move the situation to a peaceful conclusion any time soon. “Anybody who has even a minimum understanding of the situation would never think that as of Monday, peace will break out,” said Rev. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, a priest who organized the meeting.
Even though the conflict between Palestine and Israel is dark and difficult to navigate, the prayer service with leaders Pope Francis, Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres still provides hope for many. The meeting marks the first time the Vatican has hosted such a gathering with two leaders currently engaged in conflict.. Pope Francis advised, “Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare. It calls for 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.” He continued, “We have heard a summons and we must respond. It is the summons to break the spiral of hatred and violence, and to break it by one word alone: the word ‘brother.'”
To symbolically commemorate the olive branch peace offering extended by this meeting, Pope Francis, Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres, joined by Patriarch Bartholomew, all helped plant an actual olive tree in the Vatican gardens.