"Two further issues come to the fore now that the Palestinian elections have occurred: the status of Jerusalem and the situation of the Palestinian Christian community. The Pope linked these two issues in his address to the diplomatic corps, which is acutely aware of the sensitive nature of the status of Jerusalem."
From- America [ Jesuit publication]
February 10, 1996
[ Compare to JERUSALEM & POPE ]
JERUSALEM, CROSSROADS OF PEACE
ONE WEEK BEFORE THE ELECTIONS in Palestine on Jan. 20 for an 88-member Palestinian Council and a President of the Palestinian Authority, Pope John Paul II addressed the diplomatic representatives accredited to the Holy See. He offered a first-time welcome to the Palestinian representative, noting at the same time that the Vatican and Israel have enjoyed diplomatic relations for more than a year.
The Pope acknowledged that he had been looking forward to "this happy state of affairs because it is the eloquent sign that the Middle East has resolutely taken the path of peace proclaimed to mankind by the child born in Bethlehem."
The outcome of the Palestinian elections was a foregone conclusion, with Yasir Arafat chosen as President and a majority of the seats on the Palestinian Council going to members of his party, though some of these ran as independent candidates. What has changed with the election is the mandate now accorded to Mr. Arafat to proceed along the road to peace and the formation of a state. He has many tasks ahead of him, not least the restoration of an infrastructure that will provide medical care, education, basic services such as water and paved roads, and employment to his people. Care must be taken to protect human rights, lest his government come to be just another in the dismal array of repressive regimes in the area. He is likely to have help in his best undertakings.
One independent candidate elected to the Palestinian Council said,
"We'll build a school together, pave roads together. I'll be with the poor and be a voice for the deprived. We want to build a state with institutions."
Among the voices likely to speak with wisdom and force in the Palestinian Council is Hanan Ashrawi, widely known because of her participation in the peace talks and her human rights advocacy, who is one of four women elected to the council.
"We can't wait for foreign donations, we have to depend on ourselves,"
was the sentiment of one candidate.
But there will be significant aid forthcoming, and its proper use must be a major concern. Speaking in the United Nations on Oct. 31, 1995, the Vatican representative, Archbishop Renato Martino said: "For the Palestinian people, the allocation of appropriate material resources is essential if autonomy of governance is to have real meaning. Care must be exercised to see to it that funding given by the international community reaches down to Palestinian laborers rather than foreign entrepreneurs. Employment is essential for people if elections are to have true meaning. A guarantee of jobs for Palestinians is assuredly one way to guarantee security for Israel." The guarantee to Israel of its right to live in peace within secure borders will be a primary diplomatic task for Mr. Arafat.
Two further issues come to the fore now that the Palestinian elections have occurred: the status of Jerusalem and the situation of the Palestinian Christian community.
The Pope linked these two issues in his address to the diplomatic corps, which is acutely aware of the sensitive nature of the status of Jerusalem.
He called that city "one and holy" and hoped that "the international community will offer the political partners most directly involved the juridical and diplomatic instruments capable of ensuring that Jerusalem may truly be a 'crossroads of peace.'"
He insisted that the city be able to preserve its uniqueness and retain its living character, saying that the holy places would lose much of their significance were they not permanently surrounded by active communities of Jews, Christians and Muslims enjoying true freedom of conscience and religion.
The Christian community in the Holy Land has declined in numbers in proportion to the area's total population in the past century, especially the past half-century. The absence of economic opportunity, more than the fear of Islamic fundamentalism, has been a factor in this decline. A further factor enabling Palestinian Christians to emigrate is their high level of education and knowledge of languages. There are now communities of Palestinian Christians in Australia and South America, as well as in the traditional refuges of Canada and the United States.
But this means that the on-site, vibrant Christian community in existence since the apostolic age is concerned for its future in its own homeland. The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, has insisted that any resolution of the problem of Jerusalem must take into account five essential components:
two peoples and three religions Ñ Palestinians and Israelis, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He feels that the special status should be put into place by Israeli and Palestinian authorities, cooperating with the local church, a local status guaranteed by the international community. The Palestinian Authority, acting under its electoral mandate, is now in a position to seek, along with Israel, a just solution for this and other pressing problems.
CHRISTIANS in the Holy Land are used to minority status, coexisting with Islam and Judaism. A measure of the democratic nature of any society is the genuine freedom enjoyed by minorities. Amid many hopeful signs for peace in the Holy Land, the ability of the Christian communities to remain and develop and worship as a fully vibrant group will be a most important one.
"Behold, I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that causes reeling to all the peoples around; and when the siege is against Jerusalem, it will also be against Judah.
And it will come about in that day that I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who lift it will be severely injured. And all the nations of the earth will be gathered against it."