Friday, June 20, 2014

 

Iraqi hydrocarbon prize of U.S. invasion in danger

By Nicola Nasser*

Excluding “boots on the ground” and leaving combat missions to local and regional “partners,” President Barak Obama and his administration say the United States keeps “all options on the table” to respond militarily to the terrorists’ threat to “American interests” in Iraq, which are now in “danger.”

Similarly, former UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on TV screens and in print has recently urged western governments to “put aside the differences of the past and act now” and to intervene militarily in Iraq “to save the future” because “we do have interests in this.”

Both men refrained from indicating what are exactly the “American” and “western” interests in Iraq that need military intervention to defend, but the major prize of their invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the country’s hydrocarbon assets. There lies their “interests.

On June 13 however, Obama hinted to a possible major “disruption” in Iraqi oil output and urged “other producers in the Gulf” to be “able to pick up the slack.”

The United States has already moved the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush, escorted by the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea and the guided-missile destroyer USS Truxtun, from the northern Arabian Sea into the Arabian Gulf (Persian according to Iran) “to protect American lives, citizens and interests in Iraq,” according to Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, on June 14. Media is reporting that U.S. intelligence units and air reconnaissance are already operating in Iraq.

The unfolding collapse of the U.S. proxy government in Baghdad has cut short a process of legalizing the de-nationalization of the hydrocarbon industry in Iraq, which became within reach with the latest electoral victory of the Iraqi prime minister since 2006, Noori al-Maliki.

Anti-American armed resistance to the U.S. proxy ruling regime in Baghdad, especially the Baath-led backbone, is on record as seeking to return to the status quo ante with regard to the country’s strategic hydrocarbon assets, i.e. nationalization.

De-nationalization and privatization of the Iraqi oil and gas industry began with the U.S.-led invasion of the country in 2003. Al-Maliki for eight years could not pass a hydrocarbons law through the parliament. Popular opposition and a political system based on sectarian distribution of power and “federal” distribution of oil revenues blocked its adoption. Ruling by political majority instead by sectarian consensus was al-Maliki’s declared hope to enact the law.

Al-Maliki’s plans towards this end together with his political ambitions for a third term were cut short by the fall to armed opposition on this June 10 of Mosul, the capital of the northern Ninawa governorate and second only to Baghdad as Iraq’s largest metropolitan area.

Three days on, with the fighting moving on to the gates of Baghdad, “the most important priority for Baghdad right now is to secure its capital and oil infrastructure,” a Stratfor analysis on June 11 concluded.

The raging war in Iraq now will determine whether Iraqi hydrocarbons are a national asset or multinational loot. Any U.S. military support to the regime it installed in Baghdad should be viewed within this context. Meanwhile this national wealth is still being pillaged as spoils of war.

Al-Maliki is not now preoccupied even with maintaining Iraq as OPEC’s No. 2 oil producer, but with maintaining a level of oil output sufficient to bring in enough revenues to finance a defensive war that left his capital besieged and his government with southern Iraq only to rule, may be not for too long.

Even this modest goal is in doubt. Al-Maliki is left with oil exports from the south only, the disruption of which is highly possible any time now.

Worries that fighting would spread to the southern city of Basra or Baghdad have already sent oil prices to nine-month high on Thursday.

Legalizing the de-nationalization of Iraqi hydrocarbon industry has thus become more elusive than it has ever been since 2003.

On June 1 forty two years ago the process of the nationalization of the hydrocarbon industry kicked off in Iraq. Now Iraq is an open field for looting its only strategic asset.

On April 15 last year the CNN, reviewing “The Iraq war, 10 years on,” reported: “Yes, the Iraq War was a war for oil, and it was a war with winners: Big Oil.”

“Before the 2003 invasion, Iraq's domestic oil industry was fully nationalized and closed to Western oil companies. A decade of war later, it is largely privatized and utterly dominated by foreign firms,” the CNN report concluded, indicating that, “From ExxonMobil and Chevron to BP and Shell, the West's largest oil companies have set up shop in Iraq. So have a slew of American oil service companies, including Halliburton, the Texas-based firm Dick Cheney ran before becoming George W. Bush's running mate in 2000.

The international rush for the Iraqi “black gold” by trans-national oil and gas corporations is at its height with no national law or competent central authority to regulate it.

Iraq’s “oil industry” now “operates, gold rush–style, in an almost complete absence of oversight or regulation,” Greg Muttitt wrote in The Nation on August 23, 2012.

Nothing changed since except that the “rush” was accelerating and the de-nationalization process was taking roots, squandering the bloody sacrifices of the Iraqis over eighty two years to uproot the foreign hold on their major strategic asset. The ongoing fighting is threatening to cut this process short.

Tip of iceberg

Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq has been awarding hydrocarbon contracts to foreign firms independently without reference to the central government in Baghdad.

Since early 2014, it has been pumping crude to Turkey via its own independent pipeline built last December. On this June 4, Turkey and the KRG announced the signing of a 50-year deal to export Iraqi oil from Kurdistan via Turkey.

Hussein al-Shahristani, Iraq's deputy prime minister, threatened legal action against firms that purchased "smuggled oil" via the Turkish-KRG arrangements; he accused Turkey of “greed” and trying “to lay (its) hands on cheap Iraqi oil.


Baghdad filed for arbitration against Turkey’s state-owned pipeline operator BOTAS with the International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris.

Baghdad says those Turkish-KRG arrangements are illegal and unconstitutional, but its own contract awarding is also unlawful. Should a change of guard occur in Baghdad, al-Maliki and his government would be held accountable and probably prosecuted.

The dispute between Baghdad on the one hand and Turkey and the KRG on the other is only the surfacing tip of the iceberg of the “gold rush–style” looting of Iraq’s national wealth.

One of the main priorities of al-Maliki all along has been to legalize the de-nationalization and privatization process.

Muttitt, author of Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq, wrote a few months before al-Maliki assumed his first premiership that American and British governments made sure the candidates for prime minister knew what their first priority had to be: To pass a law legalizing the return of the foreign multinationals. This would be the vital biggest prize of the U.S. 2003 invasion.

Al-Maliki is the right man to secure a pro-privatization government in Baghdad. Thomas L. Friedman described him in the New York Times on this June 4 as “our guy,” “an American-installed autocrat” and a “big gift” the U.S. occupation “left behind in Iraq.”

Various drafts of hydrocarbon privatization laws failed to gain consensus among the proxy sectarian parties to the U.S.-engineered “political process” and the “federal” entities of Iraq’s U.S.-drafted constitution.

Al-Maliki’s government endorsed the first draft of a privatization law in February 2007 and on August 28, 2011 endorsed an amended draft which the parliament has yet to adopt.

Iraqi trade unions, amid popular protests, opposed and fought the privatization draft laws. Their offices were raided, computers confiscated, equipment smashed and their leaders arrested and prosecuted. Nonetheless, the parliament could not pass the law.

Al-Maliki government began awarding contracts to international oil and gas giants without a law in place. They are illegal contracts, but valid as long as there is a pro-privatization government in Baghdad.

U.S. Executive Order 13303

Former British and U.S. leaders of the invasion of Iraq, Tony Blair and George Bush junior, were on record to deny that the invasion had anything to do with oil, but the U.S. President Barak Obama has just refuted their claim.

On last May 16, Obama signed an Executive Order to extend the national emergency with respect to Iraq for one year. His predecessor Bush signed this “order” for the first time on May 22, 2003 “to deal with the … threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by obstacles to the continued reconstruction of Iraq.”

Details of Bush’s Executive Order (EO) No. 13303 are still kept out of media spotlight. It declared that future legal claims on Iraq’s oil wealth constitute “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

Section 1(b) eliminates all judicial process for “all Iraqi petroleum and petroleum products, and interests therein, and proceeds, obligations or any financial instruments of any nature whatsoever arising from or related to the sale or marketing thereof, and interests therein, in which any foreign country or a national thereof has any interest, that are in the United States, that hereafter come within the United States, or that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of United States persons.”

EO 13303 was rubber-stamped by the UN Security Council Resolution No. 1483, which protected the U.S.-controlled governmental institutions in Iraq.

Muttitt wrote in August 2012: “In 2011, after nearly nine years of war and occupation, U.S. troops finally left Iraq. In their place, Big Oil is now present in force.”

“Big Oil” is now the only guarantor of the survival of the U.S. proxy government in Baghdad, but the survival of “Big Oil” itself is now threatened by the escalating and rapidly expanding armed opposition.

Obama said the “threats” and “obstacles” to U.S, interests in Iraq have not changed eleven years after the invasion; Iraq has not enacted yet a hydrocarbon law to legalize the privatization of its oil and gas industry.

The developments of the last week in Iraq vindicate Obama’s renewal of EO 13303. The U.S. war on Iraq is not over and it is not won yet. Hence Obama’s recent extension of the national emergency with respect to Iraq for one year.

Since Great Britain granted Iraq its restricted independence in 1932, the nationalization of Iraqi oil wealth was the national and popular battle cry for complete sovereignty. It is now the battle cry of the armed opposition.

Iraq has been targeted by western powers since the “republic” under the late Abd al-Karim Qasim enacted law No. 80 of 1961, which deprived foreign companies of the right to explore in 99.5% of the Iraqi territory, but mainly since the Baath regime led by the late Saddam Hussein decided to nationalize the hydrocarbon industry on June 1, 1972.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. nassernicola@ymail.com.



Tuesday, June 17, 2014

 

Antagonizing Palestinians, Australia’s linguistic blunder snowballs

By Nicola Nasser*

Reacting to antagonized Palestinian snowballing protests to her government’s decision on June 5 to reverse a 47-year old bipartisan consensus on describing eastern Jerusalem as “occupied,” Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on June 13 denied any “change in the Australian government’s position.”

On June 5, Australian Attorney-General George Brandis in a statement said: ''The description of East Jerusalem as 'Occupied East Jerusalem' is a term freighted with pejorative implications, which is neither appropriate nor useful.''

The new Australian terminology provoked Jordan, the third largest importer of Australian sheep in the Middle East, to summon Australia's charge d'affaires, John Feakes, to convey its “concern” because “The Australian government's decision violates international law and resolutions that consider east Jerusalem as an integral part of all Palestinian territories occupied in 1967.”

Similarly, the Australian Representative in Ramallah, Tom Wilson, was summoned by the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to convey “deep concern” because Brandis’ remarkscontradict all international resolutions.” They requested “official clarification.”

Bishop’s “no change” statement came in response. It was followed on June 14 by Prime Minister Tony Abbott who said, while on a trip to North America, that his government had made only a “terminological clarification.”

Australia still “strongly” supports the “two-state solution” and “there has been no change in policy – absolutely no change in policy,” Abbot said, but at the same time confirmed that, “We absolutely refuse to refer to occupied East Jerusalem.”

Abbot two days earlier stated that the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) are in “truth … disputed territories."     

Canberra is showing no signs of backing down. Australian ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, on June 11 said Brandis’ reasoning could lead his government to similar official linguistic change on the West Bank.

“I think we just call the West Bank, ‘the West Bank,’ as a geographical entity without adding any adjectives to it, whether ‘occupied’ [the Palestinian position] or ‘disputed’ [the Israeli position]. We’ll just call it what it is, which is ‘the West Bank.’,” he told the Tablet. However, this is not official yet, he said.

“There has been no change in the Australian government’s position on the legal status of the Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem,” Bishop “clarified” in her statement. She was not convincing. The credibility of Bishop’s and Abbot’s denial of “change” could hardly be plausible.

It is a “radical change in the Australian position on Palestine,” Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said. The head of the Palestinian delegation to Canberra, Izzat Abdulhadi, said Australia’s new stance is “very provocative.”

On June 12, Arab and Islamic ambassadors from 18 countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Indonesia, protested to Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs in Canberra.

Jerusalem is the permanent headquarters of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The organization was founded in response to the burning of Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, by the Australian arsonist Michael Dennis Rohan in 1969.

The Australian on June 10 reported from Jerusalem that the 57-member OIC will hold a joint emergency meeting this month with the 22-member Arab League to decide their response to Australia’s “terminology” declaration.

Secretary General of the Arab League, Nabil al-Arabi sent Bishop a “letter of protest” requesting “official clarification,” his deputy Ahmad bin Hilli said last Monday. 

Palestinians are on record to invoke the multi-billion annual Australian agricultural exports to the member states in the discussions. Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss told reporters last Friday that “we will work very hard with them … to maintain the trade,” but so far his government has shown no signs to that effect.

Bishop’s and Abbot’s “no change” statements tried to imply that their country’s policy has not changed and that if there was a change it is a linguistic one only.

Either case the change in “terminology” serves neither Australian nor Palestinian interests. Coming ahead of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s upcoming visit to Australia this summer, to be the first ever sitting Israeli premier to visit Canberra, it serves only as a free of charge welcoming present.

However, coming on the 47th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory in eastern Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza Strip and in 2014, which the United Nations proclaimed an International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, the Australian “change of language” was “absolutely disgraceful and shocking,” according to the member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Hanan Ashrawi.

“Such inflammatory and irresponsible statements … are not only in blatant violation of international law and global consensus, but are also lethal in any pursuit of peace and toxic to any attempt at enacting a global rule of law,” Ashrawi was quoted as saying by the Times of Israel on June 6.

In fact, describing the Palestinian territories, eastern Jerusalem inclusive, as “occupied” is not only a Palestinian position.

The Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem has not been recognized by the international community and all 193 countries of the UN, including the U.S., refuse to have their embassies in Jerusalem because it would imply their recognition of the city as Israel’s capital.

Published by The Guardian on this June 11, Ben Saul wrote: “Calling east Jerusalem ‘occupied’ simply recognizes the near-universal legal status quo, namely that it is not sovereign Israeli territory.”


“Declaring that east Jerusalem will not be described as ‘occupied’ implies that Australia rejects the application of international humanitarian law … The term "occupation" is therefore not pejorative or judgmental.” Saul said, adding that “Australia’s new view … corrodes the international rule of law and violates Australia’s international law obligations” in accordance with the Geneva conventions to which both Australia and Israel are signatories.

The UN Security Council Resolution 478 on August 20, 1980 censured “in the strongest terms the enactment by Israel of the ‘basic law’ on Jerusalem,” affirmed “that the enactment of the ‘basic law’ by Israel constitutes a violation of international law” and determined “that all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which have altered or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and in particular the recent ‘basic law’ on Jerusalem, are null and void and must be rescinded forthwith.”

Ninety UNSC resolutions, let alone 40 others vetoed by the U.S., rule accordingly. Now Australia is the only other nation that joins and supports Israel in its violation of all these resolutions. Aside from Israel, it is also the only nation to change its language on the Palestinian Occupied Territories.

Australian linguistics in context

The Palestinian people are not known for their short memory. They view the Australian government’s “terminological clarification” in the context of the country’s recent pro-Israel changes of policy as well as in Australia’s historical anti-Palestinian policies.

Last month, Ambassador Sharma met in East Jerusalem with the Israeli Minister of Housing Uri Ariel, who is in charge of the illegal construction of the colonial settlements in the OPT.

In January this year, while on an official visit to Israel, Foreign Minister Bishop told the Times of Israel that she isn’t convinced that Israeli construction of illegal settlements in OPT is a violation of international law, and called international boycotts of these settlements “anti-Semitic” and “Hypocritical beyond belief.”

Last November, Australia failed to join 158 nations who supported a UN General Assembly resolution calling for an end to Israeli settlements or to join 160 countries which supported another resolution calling on Israel to “comply scrupulously” with the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

In November 2012, Australia abstained from supporting the UNGA recognition of Palestine as a “non-member observer state” by a vote of 138 to 9, rendering PM Abbot’s latest “clarification” that Australia still “strongly” supports the “two-state solution” a hollow statement.

Quoted by Emeritus Professor Peter Boyce AO, President of the Australia Institute of International Affairs in Tasmania, a 2010 study found that 78% of Australians were opposed to Israel’s settlements policy and only 22% thought Jerusalem should be recognized as Israel’s capital. More recently, at the time of the 2012 General Assembly vote on Palestinian non-member observer State status, 51% of Australians thought their country should vote “Yes” and only 15% “No.”

Australia has had an important role in the establishment of the Israeli state” and it “stood alone among western governments in its uncritical alignment with Israel,” Professor Boyce wrote.

Certainly Boyce had history in mind. Australia in its capacity as the Chairman of the UN General Assembly's Ad Hoc Committee on Palestine helped to push through the UN Partition Plan on November 29, 1947. It was the first UN member state to vote in favor of Israeli statehood and the first to grant Israel de-jure recognition when the U.S. recognized it de-facto only. Israel was also the first Middle East country with which Australia established diplomatic relations in 1949.

Australia had defended all Israeli wars on Palestine, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria as “in self defense,” especially the 1967 war in which it occupied more Palestinian territories and the lands of four Arab countries.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. nassernicola@ymail.com




Tuesday, June 03, 2014

 

Pope’s unbalanced neutrality in Holy Land

By Nicola Nasser*

Pope Francis’ “”pilgrimage” to the Holy Land last week proved to be an unbalanced impossible mission. The pontiff failed to strike a balance of neutrality between contradictory and irreconcilable binaries like divinity and earth, religion and politics, justice and injustice and military occupation and peace.

Such neutrality is viewed by the laity of Christian believers, let alone Muslim ones, in the Holy Land as religiously, morally and politically unacceptable.

The 77-year old head of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics “is stepping into a religious and political minefield,” Naim Ateek, the Anglican priest who founded the Palestinian liberation theology movement and runs the Sabeel Ecumenical Center in Jerusalem and Nazareth, was quoted as saying by “Time” on last May 24, the first day of the pope’s “pilgrimage.”

Ironically, the symbolic moral and spiritual power of the Holy See was down to earth in Pope Francis’ subservient adaptation to the current realpolitik of the Holy Land in what the Catholic Online on May 26 described as “faith diplomacy.”

The pontiff’s message to the Palestinian people during his three-day “pilgrimage” to the Holy Land boils down to an endorsement of the Israeli and U.S. message to them, i.e.: “The only route to peace” is to negotiate with the Israeli occupying power, refrain from unilateral actions and “violent” resistance and recognize Israel as a fait accompli.

The UK-based Jordanian-Palestinian journalist Lamis Andoni, a Christian herself, wrote on May 27: “We don’t need the Vatican blessing of negotiations … Whoever sees occupation and remains neutral has no justice in his vision.”

The Vatican and the pope himself had insisted that his visit to the birthplace of the three monotheistic “Abrahamic faiths” of Islam, Christianity and Judaism was “purely spiritual,” “strictly religious,” a “pilgrimage for prayer” and “absolutely not political.”

But the Vatican expert John Allen, writing in the Boston Globe a week ahead of the pope’s visit, had expected it to be a “political high-wire act,” and that what it truly was, because “religion and politics cannot be separated in the Holy Land,” according to Yolande Knell on BBC online on May 25.

Pope Francis would have performed much better had he adhered “strictly,” “purely” and “absolutely” to making his trip a “pilgrimage for prayer” and one that is committed to Christian unity and to helping indigenous Christians survive the highly volatile and violent regional environment.

Instead he had drowned his spiritual role in a minefield of symbolic political semantics and semiotics.

The pope finished his “pilgrimage,” which was announced as a religious one but turned instead into a political pilgrimage, with a call for peace.

However, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Hussein, while welcoming the pontiff inside Islam’s third holiest site of Al-Aqsa Mosque on May 26, said: “Peace in this land will not happen until the end of the [Israeli military] occupation.”

Palestinian-American Daoud Kuttab on May 25 wrote in a controversial column that the pope “exceeded expectations for Palestinians.”

He flew directly from Jordan to Bethlehem in Palestine without passing through any Israeli entry procedures, implicitly and symbolically recognizing Palestinian sovereignty.

He addressed the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as the head of the “State of Palestine,” announced that there must be “recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to a sovereign homeland and their right to live with dignity and with freedom of movement” and met with Palestinian children whose parents were refugees whom Israelis displaced from their homes in 1948.

And in an undeniable expression of solidarity with the Palestinians, he made an unplanned stop to pray at Israel’s apartheid wall of segregation in Bethlehem, because, as he said, “the time has come to put an end to this situation which has become increasingly unacceptable.”

However, the word “occupation” was missing in more than thirteen of his speeches during his “pilgrimage” as was any reference to world’s “largest open-air prison” in Gaza Strip or to Dahiyat a-Salam (literally: Neighborhood of Peace) and other five neighbourhoods in eastern Jerusalem, including the Shu’fat Refugee Camp, where some eighty thousand Palestinians were cut off from the city services, including water, since March 2014 and isolated from Jerusalem by Israel’s segregation wall. His itinerary did not include the Galilee and Nazareth where most Palestinian Christians are located.  

Eight papal messages

However, within less than twenty four hours the pontiff was to offset his positive overtures to Palestinians and his call for a “just solution” and a “stable peace based on justice” for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with eight messages to them.

The pontiff’s arrival in the Palestinian Holy Land came three days before Israel’s celebration of its 47th anniversary of its military occupation and annexation of the Christian and Muslim holy sites in the Arab east Jerusalem and ten days after the Palestinian commemoration of the 66th anniversary of their Nakba on the creation of Israel in 1948 on the ruins of more than 500 towns and villages from which the Zionist paratroops ethnically cleansed forcefully more than 800,000 Arab Muslim and Christian native Palestinians.

The pope had nothing to say or do on both occasions to alleviate the ensuing plight of the Palestinians except prayers, because “the concrete measures for peace must come from negotiations … It is the only route to peace,” according to the pope aboard his flight back to Rome.

That was exactly the same futile message the Israeli occupying power and its U.S. strategic ally have been sending to Palestinians for sixty six years, but especially since 1967: Palestinians should be held hostages to exclusively bilateral negotiations with their occupying power. This was the pope’s first message to Palestinians.

For this purpose, the pope invited Palestinian and Israeli presidents, Abbas and Shimon Peres, to pray for peace at “my home in the Vatican as a place for this encounter of prayer” on June 8. The pope's spokesman, Federico Lombardi, told the BBC it was “a papal peace initiative.” This was his second message.

His third message to Palestinians was to “refrain from initiatives and actions which contradict the stated desire to reach a true agreement” with Israel, i.e. to refrain from unilateral actions, which is again another Israeli and U.S. precondition which both allies do not deem as deserving Israeli reciprocity.

By laying a wreath at the grave of Theodor Herzl, the atheist founder of Zionism who nonetheless believed in God’s promise of the land to His Jewish “chosen people,” the pope legitimized Herzl’s colonial settlement project in Palestine. This was his fourth message: Israel is a fait accompli recognized by the Vatican and blessed by the papacy and Palestinians have to adapt accordingly. The Washington Post on May 23 went further. “Some are interpreting” the pope’s act “as the pontiff’s tacit recognition of the country’s Jewish character.”

The pope sent his fifth message to Palestinians when he addressed young Palestinian refugees from the Dehiyshe Refugee Camp in Bethlehem: “Don't ever allow the past to determine your life, always look forward.” He was repeating the Israeli and U.S. call on Palestinian refugees to forget their Nakba and look forward from their refugee camps for an unknown future in exile and diaspora.

On the same occasion he sent his sixth message: “Violence cannot be defeated by violence; violence can only be defeated with peace,” the pope advised the young Palestinian refugees. This is again the Israeli and U.S. message to them, which after more than two decades of Palestinian commitment produced neither peace nor justice for them.

The pope prayed at the Holocaust memorial, the western al-Buraq Wall of Al-Aqsa Mosque, which Israelis call “The Wailing Wall,” the memorial of the Israeli victims of Palestinian resistance, laid a wreath at Herzel’s grave, visited Israeli president at his residence where he “vowed to pray for the institutions of the State of Israel,” which are responsible for the Palestinian Nakba, and received Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Notre Dame complex. The pontiff was in fact blessing and granting the Vatican legitimacy to all the Israeli symbolic casus belli claims to the land, which justify the Palestinian Nakba. This was his seventh message.

All those events took place in Jerusalem, which Israel annexed as the “eternal” capital of the Hebrew state and the “Jewish people.” Reuven Berko, writing in Yisrael Hayom, said that the Pope's meetings with Peres and Netanyahu were “de facto expressions of the Vatican's recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel.”

The pope’s eighth message to Palestinians was on the future of Jerusalem: “From the negotiations perhaps it will emerge that it will be the capital of one State or another … I do not consider myself competent to say that we should do one thing or another.”

Normalization with Israel

The “greatest importance” of Pope Francis’ visit “may lie in the fact that it reflects the normalization of relations between the Vatican and the State of Israel,” head of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, wrote on May 23.

The Second Vatican Council early in the sixties of the last century rejected the collective Jewish guilt for Jesus Christ’s death. Since then the Vatican’s “normalization” of relations with the Jews and Israel has been accumulating.

Rabbi David Rosen, director of inter-religious affairs at the American Jewish Committee, was quoted as saying by the USA Today on May 26: There “has been a revolution in the Christian world.”

At Ben-Gurion airport on May 25, Pope Francis reiterated his predecessor Benedict’s call for “the right of existence for the [still borderless] State of Israel to be recognized universally,” but was wise enough not to reiterate his “thanks to God” because “the Jews returned to the lands of their ancestors.”

To emphasise interfaith coexistence he broke the precedent of including a Jewish rabbi and a Muslim sheikh in his official delegation. “It’s highly symbolic,” said Rev. Thomas Rosica, a consultant to the Vatican press office.

By laying a wreath of white and yellow flowers, the colours of the Vatican, on the Herzl’s grave, the pope broke another historic precedent. It was an unbalanced act, 110 years after Pope Pius X met Herzl and rejected the idea of a Jewish state.

The pontiff’s “pilgrimage” could not dispel the historical fact that lies deep in the regional Arab memory that papacy was “still linked to the Crusades of the 11th through 13th centuries” when the successive popes’ only link to the Holy Land was a military one, according to the international editor of NPR.org, Greg Myre, on this May 24.

Of course this does not apply to Christianity. The indigenous oriental churches’ link to the land has never been interrupted while the Catholic Church was cut off from the region since the end of the Crusades until it came back with the European colonial domination since the nineteenth century.

No pope ever travelled to Jerusalem until Paul VI spent one day in the city, on January 4, 1964, when the holy sites were under the rule of the Arab Jordanians. John Paul visited thirty six years later and established a new papal tradition that has been followed by Pope Benedict, who visited in 2009, and now Pope Francis.

It doesn’t bode well with the Arabs and the Palestinians in particular that the new papal tradition is building on the background of recognizing Israel, which is an occupying power and still without a constitutional demarcated borders, as a fait accompli that the Palestinian people should recognize as well.


* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. An edited version of this article was first published by the Middle East Eye. nassernicola@ymail.com

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