When it comes to Israel, the Vatican sometimes cannot seem to get it right. And the announcement on Wednesday that it had concluded a treaty to recognize Palestinian statehood is yet another indication that the Vatican might want to follow Jesus’ admonition to give unto God what is his, and leave unto Caesar the affairs of men.
Although the recognition is largely going to be symbolic, it serves as a powerful reward for Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president whose term expired six-years ago, to continue to sabotage any meaningful peace talks with Israel and to showcase terrorists as role models to entice future generations of young Palestinians to blow themselves up amid crowds of innocents.
The action will not cause the creation of a Palestinian state, but it will send a strong message to Israel that it is being isolated diplomatically.
To observers of what has happened to Christians in the areas controlled by the Palestinians, the agreement is a desperate attempt to protect the Christians living under the Palestinian Authority at a time when a wave of fundamentalist Islam that is sweeping the region is creating a Christian genocide, which the world is as interested in stopping as it was the Holocaust. If so, the Vatican is going to learn an unfortunate lesson about what Muslim agreements with the infidel mean.
Even before the growth of fundamentalist Islam and its hatred of Christians, they did not fare well under the Palestinian Authority. Bethlehem, the city of Jesus’ birth, is a stunning case in point.
As a consequence of the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority took over Bethlehem from the Israelis in 1995. The Palestinian Authority brought with it a political system based on primitive tribal relations, where the power of one’s clan became a substitute for law.
We in the West somehow believe that when we sign agreements with people they will abandon their own cultural prerogatives. They do not. As a consequence of Palestinian tribalism, the Christians suffered civil outrage and criminal violence without recourse to justice.
Among the first things Arafat did when he took over Bethlehem was to expand its municipal boundaries to include 30,000 Muslims living in neighborhood refugee camps. This was part of a process to transform Bethlehem from a Christian City to a Muslim city. But even with the expansion of boundaries the Christians retained a majority. Arafat then provided inducements for Muslims to leave Hebron and resettle in Bethlehem.
Then came land seizures, harassment, and even murder. Christians fled. And with the demographic changes came the eerie sight over the years of Bethlehem celebrating Christmas in what had virtually become a Christmas without Christians. Less than 10% of this once Christian city is now Christian.
In Taibe, on the other side of Jerusalem, a Muslim mob set off on a matter of honor, yelling, “Burn the Crusaders,” and burned a statue of the Virgin Mary because a Muslim woman wanted to marry a Christian. She was beaten to death in an honor killing. He was jailed. The mob was not punished. The lesson was not lost.
As Christmas 2005 approached, taking note of the desperate situation of Christians living under Palestinian rule, the Vatican did a rare diplomatic about face and asked Israel to intervene to protect Christians. Father Artemio Vitores echoed these sentiments when he asked Israeli President Moshe Katsav to “help us keep Bethlehem.” But it was too late. The Oslo Accords put Bethlehem under the rule of Arafat and his thugs that had returned from Tunsia.
No doubt the Vatican feels that appeasing the Palestinian Authority will in some ways protect the remnant of the Christian community there in a time of grave peril. It will not. Christians, like Jews, are dhimmi, second class citizens under Sharia. The move will only emboldened the Palestinians to do what their culture instructs them to do, to reign triumphal over the infidel.
Bethlehem was once 90% Christian and 10% Muslim. Today it is precisely the reverse. If Jesus and his parents were to enter Bethlehem today, as a Jewish family seeking refuge, they would be lynched.
The Vatican, in an act of desperate diplomacy, has unwittingly put a down payment on the rope.
Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a senior fellow with the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought. Follow @salomoncenter