On May 24th, Pope Francis embarked on a three day trip to Israel and the State of Palestine. While in the West Bank, he made an unexpected stop at the separation wall, or “Apartheid wall”, which separates Palestine and Israel. While at the wall, the Pope touched his head and hand on the wall. Although the act was simple in nature, many argued that it implied his solidarity with the Palestinians.
The wall, which began construction in 2000, was built by the State of Israel in an attempt to increase security in the land. Supporters of the wall argue that suicide bombings have significantly decreased as a result of the wall, and used this to justify the completion of the wall. Opponents of the wall, however, point to the fact that the wall is a direct violation of international law, seeing that it complicates students’ rights to free movement. For many Palestinian students, travelling to their respective universities is a hassle because of the checkpoints that are set up, making traveling a few kilometers take up to three hours. Palestinian citizens of the West Bank are not allowed to go past the apartheid wall into Israel. That means that these citizens are not allowed to work in Israel, go to Masjid Al-Aqsa (the sacred Muslim mosque), or even go to Tel Aviv airport. Thus these citizens have to travel to Jordan just to catch a flight. The plight of the Palestinians has been an ongoing affair, which is why the Pope’s move is so significant. His unspoken understanding spoke volumes in terms of recognizing their struggle, and showcasing his silent support.
While tensions have been high between Palestine and Israel for decades, there have been numerous attempts for peace talks. In May, talks fizzled after Israel continued expanding on Palestinian land. Secretary of State John Kerry even remarked that the continued expansion would eventually lead to a third intifada. “Secretary Kerry made clear that while the door remains open to peace, it is up to the parties to determine whether they are willing to take the steps necessary to resume negotiations,” the State Department said in a statement. This regression of peace talks was fueled after the new Palestinian government was sworn in. This government, however, has a pact with Hamas. As a result of this new pact, Israel has decided to officially shun the new government. This has effectively halted any future peace talks between the two states, for the time being. The Pope’s visit, however, may facilitate talks between the two nations.
The Pope made an unprecedented move by inviting the Presidents of Palestine and Israel, President Abbas and President Perres, to the Vatican for a prayer session. Although the Pope stressed that this was purely to unite the two faiths, there was unequivocally some political nature embedded in his invitation. Although the President of Israel, Mr. Peres, is scheduled to leave the office in two months, there is still a bit of hope that this visit will spark talks between the two entities. The Pope, after all, is a symbol of peace, so it is fitting that he would be the one to invite the two leaders to join him in prayer. Although the Pope’s intention was to simply unite the two nations in religion, he may have very well garnered enough international attention to ignite a new attempt to negotiate peace between the two entities.