Friday, August 12, 2005

Postmortem on the Israel-Vatican spat

If Israeli officials had hoped to prompt the Vatican toward more specific condemnations of Palestinian terrorists, that effort backfired. The Secretariat of State noted that in the past, the Vatican has been prepared to condemn individual Palestinian terrorist attacks, but Israeli retaliatory actions had followed so quickly that it was "impossible to condemn the former and remain silent on the latter." Thus, while emphatically condemning Palestinian terrorists, the Vatican repeated its criticism of harsh Israeli counter-strikes.

If Israel was indeed testing the leadership of Pope Benedict, the first results are now in. Vatican policy toward Israel remains unchanged, and the essential lines of that policy have been strongly reaffirmed.

Now another test of leadership might be looming: a test for Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. During this diplomatic confrontation with the Vatican, Sharon has been thoroughly preoccupied with his own domestic political problems, revolving around the withdrawal of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip. Analysts in Jerusalem doubt that Sharon was personally involved in the decision to provoke a mini-crisis in relations with Rome.

When he has time to focus on the issue, will the prime minister support the aides who made those policy decisions, or will he distance himself from their inflammatory statements? The diplomatic incident that provided the first international test of Pope Benedict's leadership could, in the near future, furnish another test for Ariel Sharon.

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