ROME – On Monday Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with Pope Francis at the Vatican for a wide-ranging discussion that hit on major topics such as Christian persecution, the status of Jerusalem and a two-state solution for the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
In their nearly 20-minute meeting, the two focused on the need for reconciliation among Palestinians and the peace process with Israel.
While Israel has approved the building of tens of thousands of new homes in the occupied territory of the West Bank in recent years, Palestine is pushing for an independent state in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza, areas Israel is accused of occupying in violation of international law in 1967.
During their meeting, Abbas and Francis voiced hope for a “renewed commitment” on the part of the international community to reach a solution that fulfills the “legitimate aspirations” of both parties, according to a Dec. 3 statement from the Vatican.
Special attention was paid to the status of Jerusalem in the wake of President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize the city as the Israeli capital, transferring the American embassy there from Tel Aviv. In their conversation, Abbas and the pope emphasized the importance of both recognizing and preserving the identity and value of the Holy City for all religious communities who share the territory.
Mention was made of the other conflicts scarring the Middle East and the urgency of promoting peace and dialogue in the region with the help of religious communities, combating violent extremism and fundamentalism.
According to pool reporters, at the end of their meeting Abbas urged prayer for peace during the Christmas season, and told Francis he was happy with the meeting, and that “we are counting on you.”
Abbas and Francis have met on several occasions, one of which was during the pope’s first international trip to the Holy Land in 2014. A few weeks after, both Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres, who died in 2016, came to the Vatican at the invitation of the pope to pray for peace, planting an olive tree together in the Vatican gardens.
Abbas has visited the pope numerous times since, most recently in 2017 for the opening of the Palestinian embassy to the Holy See, which officially recognized the State of Palestine in January 2016.
Exchanging gifts, Abbas offered the pope a watercolor painting of Old Jerusalem and a book on the history of relations between the Vatican and the Holy Land. Francis in turn offered the president a medallion with an image of St. Peter’s Basilica before its reconstruction in the 1600s, his annual message for peace, and a copy of his 2015 environmental encyclical, Laudato Si’.
The meeting with Abbas comes nearly a month after Francis met with current Israeli President Rueven Rivlin at the Vatican to mark the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and the Holy See.
During their Nov. 15 discussion, the leaders touched on the need to forge greater trust among Israelis and Palestinians while negotiating a solution to their conflict that works for all sides. They also voiced hope that Israelis and local Catholic communities would soon come to an understanding on “some issues of common interest.”