Pope in Israel calls for Palestinian homeland

Pope Benedict XVI called for the establishment of an independent Palestinian homeland immediately after he arrived in Israel today, a stance that could put him at odds with his hosts on a trip aimed at improving ties between the Vatican and Jews.

The pope also took on the delicate issue of the Holocaust, pledging to "honour the memory" of the six million Jewish victims of the Nazi genocide at the start of his five-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Benedict touched down in Israel on the second leg of a weeklong pilgrimage to the Holy Land, after spending three days in neighboring Jordan. He is using the tour to reach out to both Muslims and Jews.

In his first public comments upon arriving, Benedict urged Israelis and Palestinians to "explore every possible avenue" to resolve their differences.

"The hopes of countless men, women and children for a more secure and stable future depend on the outcome of negotiations for peace," he told a welcoming ceremony at Israel's international airport. "In union with people of goodwill everywhere, I plead with all those responsible to explore every possible avenue in the search for a just resolution of the outstanding difficulties, so that both peoples may live in peace in a homeland of their own within secure and internationally recognized borders."

While Benedict has spoken in favor of a Palestinian homeland in the past, the timing and location of his comments were noteworthy.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in the audience, has pointedly refused to endorse the two-state solution since his election. But he is expected to come under pressure to do so when he travels to Washington next week. Netanyahu did not speak at the ceremony, then flew to Egypt for talks on regional issues with President Hosni Mubarak.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor played down the pope's comments, saying he was voicing a long-standing position shared by the U.S. and European countries.

"At any rate, discussing this is not the purpose of the visit," he said.

Parliament speaker Reuven Rivlin conspicuously skipped the airport ceremony, though his office said he would join the pope at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

The pope has tried to improve interfaith relations throughout his four-year papacy, and as a cardinal, had a long record of promoting dialogue with other faiths. But Benedict has had to tread carefully on his Middle East visit because of past gaffes.

Benedict angered many in the Muslim world three years ago when he quoted a medieval text that characterized some of Islam's Prophet Muhammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith." He later expressed regret that his comments offended Muslims.

Before leaving Jordan, he said he had a "deep respect" for Islam.

The Vatican has also been widely accused over the years of not doing enough to stop the Holocaust — a charge it rejects. And the German-born pope himself has faced questions for his involvement in the Hitler Youth corps during the war. Benedict says he was coerced.

The pope outraged Jews earlier this year when he revoked the excommunication of a British bishop who denies the Holocaust. Ties were further strained when a senior Vatican official said during Israel's recent military campaign in Gaza that the territory resembled a "big concentration camp."

Later Monday, Benedict was scheduled to lay a wreath at Yad Vashem.

"It is right and fitting that, during my stay in Israel, I will have the opportunity to honor the memory of the 6 million Jewish victims of the shoah," he said, using the Hebrew word for the Holocaust. He said he would "pray that humanity will never again witness a crime of such magnitude."

Israel and the Vatican are also at odds over the legacy of World War II pontiff Pius XII, a candidate for sainthood. At Yad Vashem, Benedict will not visit the main part of the museum, where a photo caption says Pius did not protest the Nazi genocide of Jews and maintained a largely "neutral position."

Dignitaries and religious leaders greeted the pontiff at a red-carpet ceremony at the Tel Aviv airport. Yellow and white Vatican flags fluttered alongside blue and white Israeli banners as an honor guard played in the background.

The pope smiled as he walked along the carpet, flanked by Israeli President Shimon Peres on one side and Netanyahu on the other. Other political leaders, along with black-robed Christian clergymen and Muslim religious leaders, stood in line to shake his hand.

"Your visit here brings a blessed understanding between religions and spreads peace near and far. Historic Israel and the renewed Israel together welcome your arrival as paving the great road to peace," Peres said.

Later, the pope flew by helicopter to Jerusalem for another red-carpet ceremony. Mayor Nir Barkat handed Benedict an ancient map of the world, with Jerusalem in the center and dozens of children from three schools — Christian, Jewish and Muslim — welcomed him. The children waved Israeli and Vatican flags and red carnations, and many wore T-shirts that read, "I'm with the pope in Jerusalem."

"He loves us and wants peace," said David Sahagian, a 10-year-old from a Christian school in east Jerusalem. "I want there to be peace in Jerusalem and I want him to give us his blessing."

In the Gaza Strip, Palestinians were angry that the pope planned to meet with the family of an Israeli soldier held by militants in Gaza for nearly three years but would not meet with relatives of any of the 11,000 Palestinian prisoners imprisoned in Israel.

Israeli police shut down a media center for the pope's visit that the Palestinian Authority had set up at an east Jerusalem hotel. Israeli authorities object to any attempt by the Palestinians to use east Jerusalem for official business because that would suggest Palestinian sovereignty there. Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and the Palestinians claim it as capital of a future state.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
News
Tottenham legend Jimmy Greaves has defended fans use of the word 'Yid'
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West, performing in New York last week, has been the subject of controversy as rock's traditional headline slot at Glastonbury is lost once again
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living