On the latest stop of his lengthy Middle East tour, Pope Benedict XVI made no secret of his support for the Palestinian people. What made the proclamation potentially controversial was exactly where he said it: Israel.
With new hardline Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu standing by, the Pontiff called for an independent Palestinian homeland. He said Israelis and Palestinians should "live in peace in a homeland of their own within secure and internationally recognized borders."
Israeli officials were quick to downplay the possibility of a rift between the Pope and the government. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Benedict was voicing a long-standing position shared by the U.S. and European countries.
But if his actions later were any indication, the Pontiff will not stand for attacks on Israel. At an interfaith gathering, Palestinian cleric Taysir Tamimi grabbed a microphone and launched a verbal assault on Israel. The Jerusalem Post reports:
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Following the diatribe and before the meeting was officially over, the pope exited the premises. Army Radio reported that the pope shook Tamimi's hand before walking out.
The Holy See press office issued a statement that read in part: "In a meeting dedicated to dialogue, this intervention was a direct negation of what [it] should be..."We hope that such an incident will not damage the mission of the Holy Father aiming at promoting peace and interreligious dialogue, as he has clearly affirmed in many occasions in this pilgrimage."
In addition to voicing support for the Palestinians, Benedict does have some fences to mend with the Jewish community. The 82 year old Pope confronted his native Germany's dark past with a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, where he greeted six holocaust survivors. And Jews were angered earlier this year when he revoked the excommunication of a holocaust-denying British bishop.
Benedict is the second Pope to visit Israel. John Paul II was the first to make the trip, nine years ago.