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Vatican praises UN's Palestine vote

When Pope John Paul II visited the Dheisheh refugee camp outside Bethlehem in 2000, he spoke with much compassion to the Palestinians who gathered to meet him. "Above all," he said, "you bear the sad memory of what you were forced to leave behind. Not just material possessions, but your freedom, the closeness of relatives, and the familiar surroundings and cultural traditions which nourished your personal and family life."John Paul "felt close to the Palestinian people in their sufferings," as he put it, but still found a warm acceptance when he visited Israel the following day.I was thinking back to those events, which I had written about as a reporter for Newsday, when I saw news that the Vatican is praising today's decision by the United Nations General Assembly to upgrade Palestine to the role of non-member observer state. "The Holy See welcomes with favor the decision of the General Assembly by which Palestine has become a Non-member Observer State of the United Nations," a statement said, according to Reuters. The Vatican renewed its call for an internationally protected status for Jerusalem. Invoking religious freedom, it said there must be a "safeguarding the freedom of religion and of conscience, the identity and sacred character of Jerusalem as a Holy City, (and) respect for, and freedom of, access to its holy places."The Vatican's announcement stands in sharp contrast to the Obama administration's reaction.

Susan Rice contended that prospects for peace were diminished. So did Hillary Clinton. So did the Israeli ambassador to the U.N., Ron Prosor. And those players would know; they and their bosses hold it in their power to make that prediction come true. But, as the Vatican statement said, "Peace needs courageous decisions." And wise ones. The Vatican said both sides must now demonstrate an "effective commitment to building peace and stability, in justice and in the respect for legitimate aspirations, both of the Israelis and of the Palestinians."This "respect for legitimate aspirations" of both the Israelis and Palestinians was the secret of John Paul's success in his jubilee-year trip to the West Bank and Israel. That seems a better starting point than the defeatism the Obama administration displayed today.The Vatican's position on this issue - its respect for both sides - receives little attention among American Catholics. Ever since that papal trip, I've thought that it's too bad more Catholics aren't familiar with it - because if we were, it could make a difference.

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Of course, it is much easier to identify at birth who the mother of an infant is.

I apologize if this is a naive comment and question, but here goes: it interests me that the name of the country that gained this recognition is "Palestine". My understanding of 20th century history is that the geographic area known as "Palestine" encompassed pretty much all of today's Israel (plus, I think, the Kingdom of Jordan?). My admittedly very sketchy understanding of current roadmaps to peace and stability involve Israel working with the entities of Gaza and the West Bank, which seem to me to be evolving (or to have already evolved) into political entities that are separate from one another. So: what, specifically is recognized here: is it a conglomeration of Gaza and the West Bank? Is it somehow the totality of the Palestinian people (which itself can be a controversial term), including Palestinians who live within Israel's borders, and those who are dispersed? The latter, encompassing a people rather than a nation with well-defined geographic borders, could be an interesting precedent, yes? (Would Kurds also get this status?)

Jim--It's a complicated story to be sure, but my understanding is that the Palestinian Authority has been seeking a return to the geographical and political status that existed just before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War when the West Bank was controlled by Jordan and Gaza by Egypt. Both areas had large Palestinian populations, as they still do, except that Israel continues to assert a significant degree of control over the West Bank, including the annexation of East Jerusalem in 1980 and the establishment of settlements in various West Bank locales. As a result of the Oslo Accords, the PA also asserts authority in various parts of the West Bank. Israel sees the West Bank as a buffer zone between Arab nations such as Jordan and the major Israeli population centers. The Netanyahu government has stated on multiple occasions that Israeli would be indefensible if it had to cede total control of the West Bank. Finding a satisfactory solution to the Gordian Knot that is Israel and Palestine has so far vexed some of the worlds best mediators, including Jimmy Carter and former Sen. George Mitchell. Though the latter played a large role in resolving the seemingly intractable cycles of violence in Northern Ireland, he had much less success, though not for wont of trying, as the Obama Administrations special envoy for Middle East peace.

Jim P. ==Excellent question. And a similar one can be asked about "Israel" and "the Jews". Both groups seem to maintain a group identity by sheer force of will which refuses to abandon their common culture even when the individual members of the groups are scattered, and especially when the individuals are scattered against their wills. While such "nations" might have no weight in law, in history they can dominate the actions of the individuals involved.It also seems to me that this question involves the metaphysical status of groups, a subject that we'd just as soon avoid because it's so murky. What is it that constitutes the unity of such groups as the Israelis and the Palestinians? What is it that ultimately binds its members together? We had a similar discussion recently about what constitutes the unity of the Roman Catholic Church -- what grounds its unity and what sort of unity that is. Too often, I think, such discussions get hung up in questions about purported semi-independent identities that are timeless and inviolable, in racial or political or religious mystiques. I suspect that a large part of "the problem of the Middle East' is due to our lack of any clear understanding of the philosophical question about the unity of groups. (Interesting that this metaphysical question includes the notion of "ground". ISTM that this "ground" metaphor hinders as well as helps our understanding of the issues.)

Jim Pauweis: You can find the actual resolution that was adopted here http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/67/L.28.But given all the introductory clauses and references to other resolutions, its pretty murky. I think Mr. Collier is probably exactly right when he says it refers to Gaza and the West Bank with the borders they had before the 1967 war (the "Six Day War'). These borders were fixed by the 1949 Armistice Agreement between Israel and the surrounding Arab countires that invaded Israel when it was founded in 1948. Jordan incorporated the West Bank into Jordan, but relinquished its claim to it after the '67 war. And I believe Egypt incorporated Gaza, but it certainly governed it. They aren't called borders in the 1949 agreement because the Arab countries refused to acknowledge Israel's right to exist and therefore refused to acknowledge that it had any borders. The whole thing is complicated, as Mr. Collier also notes, by the Oslo Accords, an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, that allows occupation in some parts of the West Bank and disallows it in other parts. And it is further complicated by the de facto separation of Gaza and the West Bank, which are now under separate governments. I'm not certain about this, but I don't think the Oslo Accords addressed the issue of settlements.

Ann Olivier: I can tell you from personal experience that among Jews, the mother is a very important conveyor of group identification. Perhaps the most important. Its not so much the explicit teaching, although that exists. Its some mysterious process of osmosis. Or maybe its as simple as this: Among the things most important to my mother in life, love of and loyalty to the Jewish people was high on the list. And among the things most important to me, love of Momma and Daddy are high on the list.Whatever it is, though, its pretty darn powerful.

Jim P: go here http://ifamericansknew.org/history/maps.htmlLook for the map of "Historic Palestine."

As I understand it, Jewish identity is matrilineal. If momma ain't, you ain't.As an aside, read Herman Wouk's "Inside, Outside" for a great unveiling of the ins and outs of Jewish identity.

Jim McCrea: That's the traditional way it worked, and still is, I guess, among the orthodox, but its become much more loosy goosy within Reform Judaism, which is the major branch of Judaism in the U.S. But whatever the formal definitions, the psychological identifications that Ms. Olivier was interested in work within my experience the way I described. And I would presume, they work this way a lot of times with other religions as well.

Jeff --Yes, no matter what our ethnic group is, our close family ties are extremely important whether or not we want them to be. A definition of "home" I heard recently is very relevant here: Home is where they have to take you back. (We laugh at that, but in some sense it's completely true.) Family is always a matter of real relations, wanted or not. And those relations are closely related -- or used to be -- to *where* we're from (our ground, whether literal or figural). Consider the loyalty of the Irish to "the old sod", for instance. St. Paddy's day is ours even though a great-grandparent was the last of us to see Ireland! Might there even be specific genes which force us to feel and think like this? I wouldn't be surprised if there are. I wouldn't even be surprised if we have some genes which incline us to cherish our ethnic symbol/religious symbols/ national flags (e.g., star of David, cross, stars and stripes) beyond all rationality.. The feelings are so strong that we think they must be natural -- and therefore good. But does that make our feelings of loyalty to basic groups rational and just? And *do* our own groups have to take us back? Must we defend "our own" no matter what? Right or wrong, I think these relations which tie us together are quite real. What sort of obligations/relationships are these metaphysically? I think they're psychological on both an emotional and spiritual level. Being relations, they can all be called "intentionalities" -- qualities which incline us towards, even uniting us with other things. We can't see them, but they're very real. But, again, do they always incline us to what is just towards people who are not members of our own group? Obviously not.

P. S. The Jews and Palestinians claim the *same* ground. Should each be morally bound to take the other back? There's the rub.

Ann- Jews and Arabs are both semites, so there is a family relation, but its pretty attenuated by now. Besides, some of the worst fights are among family members. I'm afraid there will be no "taking back" on either side. The most that can be hoped for is that they can muddle through without too much destruction until they are able to make a cold peace. Then after the old, embittered generations have died off, the newer, succeeding generations will make the real peace, the one with heart.The problem with group identification, as you say, is its strong element of go-alongism. It swamps the individual conscience, and that's a short route to disaster. There's no getting rid of group loyalty and no getting rid of the possibility that the group may do evil. I guess eternal vigilance is required.

Jeff --I agree. Tribalism, as it's sometimes called, seems hard-wired into us, and learning to transcend it is, I guess, one of the main purposes of civilization. But it can be done. I have seen deep changes in so many Southerners over my life-time that I have to be optimistic. But as I see it, the most basic problem in the Middle East is that there is no legal system which can force movement away from the hatreds and righteous anger on both sides.