We were disappointed to see initial reports that Pope Francis called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas an “angel of peace.” We were relieved to see reports that the Pope was likely misunderstood. It seems that what he said to Abbas was that he “could be” an angel of peace.
And indeed, President Abbas could be an angel of peace. In order to rise to this role, he would first have to his express his moral — not just tactical — rejection of terrorism. He would have to renounce the unrepentant terrorists of Hamas as a legitimate governing partner. He would have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and reject the so-called Palestinian right of return. And he would have to bring himself to accept one of Israel’s generous offers of a Palestinian state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
If he did all of these things, then Abbas certainly could be an angel of peace.
Having done none of these things, Abbas is far from earning his wings.
Sadly, however, we fear that the Vatican’s recent decision to formalize its recognition of the “State of Palestine” will not prod Abbas towards compromise. We believe the opposite to be true. As recently as 2008, Abbas refused a Palestinian state because he was unwilling to risk his career — and his life — by taking the steps outlined above. As an increasing number of nations around the world have since rewarded him with recognition, Abbas has less incentive than ever to take these risks for peace. He now sees that he can have it all — intransigence and recognition. And this is a tragedy for all concerned, Christian, Jew and Muslim alike.