Pope Francis was full of surprises yesterday during his visit to the Middle East. John Allen of The Boston Globe mentions the major one:
In a surprise announcement at the conclusion of his Mass in Bethlehem, the pope said he was inviting both President Shimon Peres of Israel and Abbas to the Vatican to take part in a common prayer for peace, saying that “the men and women of these lands, and of the entire world, all of them, ask us to bring before God their fervent hopes for peace.”
Lombardi called it a “creative and courageous” gesture on the part of Francis, adding that the hope is to organize the encounter quickly. Though Lombardi did not say so out loud, the rush is in part because Peres’s term ends on July 27.
Both leaders quickly accepted the invitation, which comes one month after the latest attempt at restating peace negotiations broke down. Though the official motive for the meeting would be the prayer, it might also be an occasion for the two leaders to talk informally about substantive matters.
Go here to read the rest. The President of Israel of course is merely a figurehead with no power. Peres has a long history in Israelis politics but that is coming to an end with his announced retirement. He and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have diametrically opposed views in regard to peace negotiations with the Palestinians with Peres currently a dove, although he was quite the hawk earlier in his career, and Netanyahu most decidedly, and always, a hawk. Besides that, they are of different parties and personally despise each other. As for Abbas, anyone expecting any courage and leadership from that weathervane to bring about a settlement simply has not been paying attention to his career. Other than symbolism, PopeWatch has a hard time seeing what this will accomplish, especially since the Vatican has a very well-deserved reputation of tilting to the Arab side of the Israeli-Arab conflict.