You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

The Pope, Parks And Partition

I actually like this Pope, not that my likes and dislikes in this matter count very much. And, as that truly wonderful New York Times reporter Rachel Donadio tells us from Jerusalem today, Benedict XVI also wants a homeland for the Palestinians. Actually, the Holy Father's views on Palestine aren't of great importance, although perhaps a bit more than those of the Archbishop of Canterbury who has even less divisions than the Pope (Stalin's cruel metaphor for Vatican power) and is one of those modern clerical goofies, besides. No, the Pope did not say a "state," as Donadio aptly points out.
But that's what everyone means, even right-wing Israelis, like Avigdor Lieberman. 

Alas, the Vatican's historical credentials in these matters are foul. All you have to do is read Sergio I. Minerbi, The Vatican and Zionism, which goes up only to 1925, to grasp the difficulties that the papacy had with the very idea of the Jewish people. The history does not get better during or after World War II. Of course, the foreign policy of the Vicar of Christ was virulently opposed to the 1947 Partition Plan which would have established two states in  Palestine, a small one (Jewish) and a large one (Arab). No one thought of the inhabitants of the second one as Palestinians, by the way. Had the Vatican supported the partition of Palestine, people would snicker less as the Pope supports a Palestinian homeland 62 years later, although he has not yet recognized Israel.

Nearly sixty-two years ago the Arab states--acting for themselves but speaking with forked tongues for the Arabs of Palestine--rejected the Partition Plan that emerged circuitously: 1. from the 1917 Balfour Declaration and 2. from the League of Nations mandate, intended to establish the Jewish national home. Oh, you forgot? The Arabs would get Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq etc; the Jews would get Palestine. Pretty fair, it seems to me. Actually, the Zionists were lucky to have had Transjordan cut  off in 1921 from Palestine by the great Christian Zionist Winston Churchill, about whom Michael Makovsky has written an incandescent piece of scholarship, Churchill's Promised Land, published as a New Republic Book by Yale University Press.

The division of Palestine by the United Nations in 1947 emasculated the Zionist dream cartography. Still, they accepted it. But the war of five Arab states (the above, plus Egypt), meant utterly to squash the newly independent State of Israel, actually enlarged its territories so that it would no longer be discontinuous and utterly tiny. That is, the Jewish state won land in battle; Jordan annexed Judea and Samaria and over time allowed their populations to become citizens of the kingdom; Egypt just appropriated Gaza and made of it a jail, no one in, no one out.
The Partition Plan would have internationalized the whole city of Jerusalem. The Zionists were not delighted but they accepted. The Arabs did not. The  fighting also left east Jerusalem and the Old City in the possession of King Abdullah, the present Abdullah's great-grandfather. The ancient Jewish Quarter was completely destroyed, along with ancient Jewish sites, cemeteries (including the one on the Mount of Olives) and synagogues. Israel retook this territory in the Six Day War and put it under its sovereignty. 

This is the history behind a fascinating Times story, "Parks Fortify Israel's Claim to Jerusalem," this one by Ethan Bronner and Isabel Kershner. The article is not only about parks. It is about history and national destiny. Had the Arabs not rejected the partition of Palestine and the internationalization of the Holy City, the last six decades would have been very different: borders, parks, people. Still, It wouldn't have been a picnic.

And thus it is written.