Is the Vatican pro-Hamas?

Or just pro-Palestinian? Or anti-Israel? Or are they distinctions without a difference?As the violence continues in Gaza the prospects for a papal visit to the Holy Land, anticipated for May, grow more remote. In his weekly analysis, Vaticanista Sandro Magister lays out the case for what he says is Vatican foreign policy that continues to slant heavuly toward the Palestinians, and Hamas. The only change under Benedict XVI, he writes, is in a slightly less combative tone toward Israel. The substance remains the same:

The authorities of the Church, and Benedict XVI himself, have raised their voices in condemnation of "the massive violence that has broken out in the Gaza Strip in response to other violence" only after Israel began bombing the installations of the terrorist movement Hamas in that territory. Not before. Not when Hamas was tightening its brutal grip on Gaza, massacring the Muslims faithful to president Abu Mazen, humiliating the tiny Christian communities, and launching dozens of rockets every day against the Israelis in the surrounding area.About Hamas and its vaunted "mission" of wiping the Jewish state from the face of the earth, about Hamas as an outpost for Iran's expansionist aims in the Middle East, about Hamas as an ally of Hezbollah and Syria, the Vatican authorities have never raised the red alert. They have never shown that they see Hamas as a deadly danger to Israel and an obstacle to the birth of a Palestinian state, in addition to its being a nightmare for the Arab regimes in the area, from Egypt to Jordan to Saudi Arabia.In the December 29-30 issue of "L'Osservatore Romano," a front-page commentary by Luca M. Possati, checked word by word by the Vatican secretariat of state, claimed that "for the Jewish state, the only possible idea of security must come through dialogue with all, even those who do not recognize it." Read: Hamas.And in the same issue of the Vatican newspaper - in a statement also approved by the secretariat of state - the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, after decrying Israel's "disproportionate" military reaction, reiterated the same concept: "We must have the humility to sit at the same table and listen to each other." Not a word about Hamas and its prejudicial refusal to accept the very existence of Israel.

Magister's analysis is clearly critical of the Vatican, to the extent that I think he skews the record somewhat. He does not highlight Israeli policies that have hurt Arab Christians, nor the absurdly difficult negotiations between Israel and the Holy See over the religious protections and tax policies and such for church properties and communities in the Holy Land. Still, Magister gets the larger picture right. Some would say the Vatican is tilting toward the Palestinians, others would say it is striking a balance. But this is a longstanding Vatican policy, since at least Paul VI. The growth of interfaith dialogue with Judaism--and Islam--complicates the political calculus. Does it change it?

David Gibson is the director of Fordham’s Center on Religion & Culture.

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