Catholic groups comment on UN, Palestine

The Vatican has yet to comment on the Palestinian Authority's plan to request full membership in the United Nations for Palestine, but some Catholic organizations are weighing in.The Caritas blog carried a statement from the organization's general secretary in Jerusalem, Claudette Habesch:

At Caritas Jerusalem, we have seen the ravages of the occupation on the people for the past 44 years. There is the destruction of houses and crops, the discrimination for access to resources and services, the fear of random arrest and the creeping despair that eventually we might lose the our land to Israeli settlers. The feeling of injustice and humiliation is in every heart. If Palestine becomes a UN member, Palestinians will regain their dignity. They will be considered as equals in peace negotiations and when defending their cause in the UN forum. They will have access to the International Court of Justice to protect the rights of their land. They will finally believe in a peaceful future in Palestine for their children.

An analysis carried on the blog of the Latin Rite Patriarchate of Jerusalem argued in favor of the Palestinian Authority's move. It said the breakdown in negotiations with Israel left the Palestinians "with one logical and natural option which is to turn to the UN as the world governance system." It adds:

The sad fact remains that the United States has already declared its intention to use its power of veto in order to abort the Palestinian attempt to achieve their long overdue right to an independent state, although in his speech at the 65th session of the United Nations in September 2010, President Obama praised the president of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas and said that the world can have an agreement that will lead to the creation of a new Palestinian state next year (2011).

Patriarch Fouad Twal signed on to a more ambiguous official statement by the heads of the Christian churches in the Holy Land that calls for a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians and warns against any violence, whatever the outcome of the United Nations vote.Closer to home, America magazine has editorialized in favor of permitting Palestine to be a member of the UN. "It is past time to welcome Palestine into the community of nations," according to the Jesuit weekly, where the editor, Rev. Drew Christiansen, S.J., has extensive experience working in behalf of the church in the Middle East.I didn't see a statement from the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, the New York-based papal charity for the Holy Land, but CNEWA did link to a Catholic News Service article on its home page that said "Palestinian students at Bethlehem University spoke of how their lives would change if the United Nations recognized Palestine as an independent country." The students hoped for an end to travel restrictions - the same type of problems Bethlehem University students told me about when I reported from their campus 11 years ago.I'm not sure about the present Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, but I would say the Holy See has tried to be both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian since at least the time of Pope John Paul II's visit to the Holy Land in 2000. That balanced approach, continued by Pope Benedict in his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, has included many statements reflecting deep concern about the continued suffering of the Palestinian people - the kind of rhetoric that some would deem anti-Israel if it were spoken as part of American political discourse.Still, it's an approach that American Catholics would do well to consider.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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