Pope's journey jogs those on road to peace

Arabs, Israelis: His presence adds welcome pressure to conclude a peace agreement.

March 24, 2000

THE PILGRIMAGE of Pope John Paul II to the Holy Land has as its priority his personal spiritual journey, as he says. But his presence also puts welcome pressure on parties to a possible peace settlement to get on with it.

In singling out the Palestinians in wretched camps of the West Bank as sufferers, he adds urgency to their need for statehood, while remaining vague about who keeps them in these conditions. Israel as an occupying power, they would say. But also Arab rulers who kept them without citizenship rights as political fodder, they may suspect.

And when the pope prayed at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial on the edge of Jerusalem, and met Holocaust survivors, he bore witness to their humanity and their need as Israelis for security.

Intransigence is the enemy of accord. The pope is not a mediator. The United States plays a role. The king of Jordan and president of Egypt do. The latter has hinted that a deal between Syria and Israel is all but negotiated.

If so, that would explain why President Clinton hastily scheduled a meeting with the president of Syria at the end of his Asian trip. Syria appears to want a settlement with Israel first, if the Palestinians are going to have one, but perhaps not at all if they don't.

The pope's trip to the holy sites of Christianity could not respect borders. Jew, Muslim and Christian live too close, share too much history and geography, for that. Each is custodian of others' sacred places.

Peace in the Middle East is on the bubble. It needs all the help it can get. For the world to see, Pope John Paul II is helping.

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