Palestine, Papal Position Toward

Frank J Coppa. New Catholic Encyclopedia Supplement 2010. Editor: Robert L Fastiggi. Volume 1, Gale, 2010.

During the course of its long history, the Holy Land has been a source of inspiration and contention among various civilizations and faiths, and its capital, Jerusalem, besieged some two dozen times. For centuries before Christ it was the center of Jewish life, attacked by a host of enemies including the Babylonians, Persians, Romans, and others, before it fell to the Islamic Caliphate in the seventh century. Its capture by Christian crusaders in AD 1099 proved temporary, for in 1187 Saladin pushed them out. In 1517 it fell to the Ottoman Turks, who granted the various Christian denominations rights over the Christian shrines. The various Christian groups and their state protectors over time contested the rights to these holy sites. In 1853 this conflict provided the pretext for the opening of the Crimean War, as France and Russia clashed over the issue of Catholic versus Orthodox protection and supervision of the Christian shrines in Palestine. The contentions continued, as did Turkish control over the Holy Land, until World War I, when it was “liberated” by British forces under the command of Field Marshal Henry Hynman, First Viscount Allenby, in 1917. Despite the fact that the Muslim Turks had over the course of several centuries proven increasingly respectful of the rights of Christians and Jews in the Holy Land, both groups applauded its liberation and planned for its future. Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922) and his secretary of state, Pietro Gasparri, abandoned their wartime impartiality and openly expressed their joy that Palestine had been freed of Turkish control, while the Zionists hoped to establish a homeland for Jews there. A resulting clash of interests ensued, as the various faiths planned for the future of the region.

The Papacy and Zionism

Dismayed by the religious anti-Judaism and the racial anti-semitism that emerged during the Dreyfus Affair in France and elsewhere in Europe, Theodor Herzl (1860-1904) had by 1896 moved away from Jewish conversion and integration into European life, to seek a home for the Jewish people in Palestine—founding the Zionist movement in the process. Modern political Zionism had two major goals: (1) the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel; and (2) the establishment of a Jewish state there. From the first the Church and the papacy did not necessarily oppose the first goal, but clearly opposed the latter aim of establishing a Jewish state that might gain control of the Christian shrines. As early as May 1896, Herzl, hoping to secure Vatican support for his program, met with the papal nuncio to Vienna to explore the possibility of that prospect. To allay possible Vatican concerns, he sought to reassure the nuncio, and through him Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903), that the Jewish homeland in Palestine his organization envisioned would not prove detrimental to Catholic interests in the Holy Land. In fact, he promised it would not include such Christian points of interest as Jerusalem, Bethlehem, or Nazareth, and that all the Christian shrines would be accorded extraterritorial status. Neither the nuncio nor the pope showed any interest in the project. In fact, as news of the Zionist goal spread, the Jesuit-run publication Civiltà Cattolica opposed the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, considering it contrary to Christ’s predictions and the Church’s interests. Leo concurred with the Jesuits in opposing Jewish control of the Holy Land, as did his successor, Pius X (1903-1914).

Like his predecessor, Pius X, while not hostile to Jews or Judaism, was most concerned about the Church’s position and future in the Holy Land, the cradle of Christianity, whose indigenous Christian population remained among the oldest in the world. At the opening of Pius’s pontificate, the Vatican supported some thirty orders and associations in the Holy Land, some twenty convents and monasteries, and eighteen hospices as well as five hospitals. Pius X shared Leo’s concern that the Zionist program might prove detrimental to Christian interests and concessions in the Holy Land, and for this and other reasons he decided to meet with Herzl at the beginning of 1904. In response to Herzl’s plea for papal assistance in establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine, Pius responded that as head of the Church, he could never favor such an enterprise. Acknowledging that he could neither sanction nor stop the Jews from venturing to Palestine, he added, “If you come to Palestine and settle your people there, we shall have churches and priests ready to baptize you all.” Later, his secretary of state, Cardinal Rafael Merry dal Val, elaborated upon the Vatican’s policy regarding Jewish emigration to the Holy Land. He specified that if the Jews sought only to establish agricultural colonies, without wishing to assert political control, Rome would deem it a humanitarian effort and would not impede it.

Pius’s successor, Benedict XV, who regretted the persecution of the Jews in the Polish territories on the part of the retreating Russian forces during the First World War and viewed the return of Jews to Palestine as providential, did not oppose their return. He indicated as much to Nahum Sokolow, Secretary General of the World Zionist Organization, whom he met in early May 1917. Benedict revealed his conviction that Jews and Christians could live in the Holy Land side-by-side as good neighbors. However, like his predecessors he opposed the political program of the Zionists and their plans for the creation of a Jewish state. In mid-December 1917, his secretary of state, Pietro Gasparri, explained the basis of papal opposition: The transformation of Palestine into a Jewish state would endanger the holy places, damage the feelings of all Christians, and prove very harmful for the country itself.

Having been clearly told they could not expect help from the papacy to fulfill their political goals, the Zionists sought support elsewhere—especially from the British government. In November 1917 they obtained the “British Declaration of Sympathy with Zionist Aspirations,” issued by British foreign secretary, Lord Arthur James Balfour. This declaration seemed to promise the Jews political and territorial rights in the Holy Land. The talk of a British mandate over Palestine led the pope and his secretary of state to fear that Catholic rights in the Holy Land would be compromised and the Church’s position undermined. Determined to assure the “inalienable rights” of the Church in Palestine, in May 1917 Benedict XV founded the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, which he personally directed, and in June 1919 he had a branch of the Biblical Institute at Rome erected in Jerusalem. Not opposed to the British mandate in Palestine or the emigration of Jews there, in an allocution of June 13, 1921, Benedict expressly stated: “We do not wish to deprive the Jews of their rights; we want, nevertheless, that they be not in any way preferred to the just rights of the Christians.” Indeed, Cardinal Gasparri complained about the draft of the British proposal that Lord Balfour presented on December 7, 1920, which he believed would establish the economic and political predominance of the Jews in the Holy Land. At the same time, the Vatican considered the prospect of an Arab administration there as unreliable and therefore unacceptable.

The Holy See hoped that the conflicting positions of the Church and the Zionists over the Holy Land would be resolved at the international conference held at San Remo in April 1920. Among other issues to be considered were that of preserving the special status of the French regarding the holy places, and the possible creation of a special international commission to administer these sites. Although the conference granted Britain the mandate for Palestine, neither of the other two papal objectives was attained. A number of Vatican aims were disregarded or rejected, including the papal call for the internationalization of the Holy Land, which would have accorded Catholic countries, especially France and Belgium, special protective rights there. Instead, the British were accorded exclusive control.

Some in the Vatican expressed concern when the British appointed Sir Herbert Samuel as first High Commissioner in Palestine, not so much because he was a Jew, but because he was known to be sympathetic to the Zionist program and aspirations. To allay these fears Samuel visited Rome on the way to his new post. He was received by both Benedict XV and Cardinal Gasparri on June 25, 1920. Rome was not reassured by the promises provided for its position in the Holy Land, and was thus encouraged to facilitate the reopening of relations with the Paris government, whose support on this issue it hoped to garner. Disappointed by the position accorded the Church in the Holy Land and the other consequences of the peace treaties, at the end of December 1921, Benedict caught a cold, which he neglected, and which led to a bronchial infection and his subsequent death on January 22, 1922.

Benedict’s successor, Pius XI (1922-1939), who deplored and protested Nazi Germany’s anti-Semitism and supported Jewish emigration to escape that satanic regime, did not approve the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. In March 1922 the Vatican’s position on Palestine was concretized in a memorandum to the secretary-general of the League of Nations, which criticized a number of the articles in the draft of the British mandate for Palestine. These, he noted, sought to implement the Balfour Declaration of 1917, in violation of the Covenant of the League. Gasparri likewise opposed giving the Jews priority in the Holy Land, fearing this would prove detrimental to Christian interests there. The Catholic press during the pontificate of Pius XI proved more critical of Zionism than the pope and displayed a degree of anti-Judaism in its critique of the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. In 1929, L’Osservatore Romano denounced “The Jewish Danger Threatening the Entire World,” while Civiltà Cattolica proclaimed that “the Jews constitute a serious and permanent danger to Christianity.” Confronted with conflicting claims, in July 1937 the Palestine Royal Commission’s Report (also known as the Peel Report), proposed the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab sectors. This projected division found few supporters among the parties most interested.

Pius XII and Palestine

Since the turn of the century the Vatican had openly opposed turning over even part of Palestine to the political control of Jews or Muslims, a stance Pius XI’s successor, Pius XII (1939-1958), also adopted following his assumption of the tiara. The outbreak of World War II in September 1939 witnessed an acceleration and intensification of the Nazi persecution of the Jews that culminated in the genocide that was their “final solution.” European Jews who managed to escape the Holocaust (Shoah) found few open doors and increasingly looked to Palestine for refuge. Their resettlement there led to tension with the resident Arab population as the influx of Jews increased, creating problems for the British who still exercised the mandate over the area. Their problems were compounded by the continued papal opposition to the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. Although the situation of European Jewry had changed dramatically following the Holocaust, and international support for a Jewish state had increased dramatically, Pope Pius XII maintained the Holy See’s opposition to the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine.

Aware of the growing military and diplomatic standing of the United States, in 1943 Pius XII’s secretary of state, Cardinal Luigi Maglione, following Pius XII’s directive, wrote the apostolic delegate in the United States, Amleto Cicognani, to apprise Washington of the Vatican’s position on the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. He wrote that Catholics worldwide would feel wounded if Palestine were to be given to the Jews, while warning the Americans that the creation of such a Jewish state would enrage the Muslim population and endanger peace and stability in the region. Between the summers of 1943 and 1944, Pius XII’s Vatican clearly reiterated its opposition to Jewish control over any part of Palestine. Some inside the Church, as well as outside, were convinced that the prevailing anti-Judaism in the institution was behind the Vatican’s opposition for the creation of a Jewish state. Cardinal Johann Will-Ebrands of Holland explained that many Catholics believed that the Jews as a people were collectively responsible for the death of Christ and were therefore condemned “to eternal pilgrimage across the world outside of Israel.”

Despite these contentions, the best available evidence suggests that Rome’s objections to a Jewish state did not flow primarily from theological anti-Judaism, which may have been a contributing factor, but not the primary one, in the formation of its policy. Far more important was the Vatican’s determination to protect and preserve Catholic interests in the Holy Land, a major priority during the Second World War and its aftermath. This same interest led the Holy See to oppose Arab domination there. The British Minister to the Holy See was convinced that the Vatican would have preferred that neither Jews nor Muslim Arabs control the area, opting instead for a third entity that would be neutral. Although the Catholic Church was most vocal in its opposition to placing Jerusalem under the political control of a competing religious element, it was not the only Christian church to reveal concern about the future of Palestine in general and Jerusalem in particular. When the British refused to continue to be burdened with this responsibility, the Vatican of Pius XII concluded that the next best solution was the internationalization of Jerusalem, and he proposed that this be under the auspices and supervision of the newly formed United Nations (U.N.). Presumably the international organization would not favor one religion of the book over the others, but some complained that the Western bias of the organization would mean that the interests of Christians would be favored over those of Muslims and Jews.

Others observed that there was a pressing need for some solution to the controversy over Palestine as violence escalated among Jews, Muslims, and Christians, as well as against the British who had held the League’s mandate over the region since the end of World War I. After 1945 the British had increasingly to resort to military force to subdue the constant clashes between Arabs and Jews, and Britain was increasingly embroiled in the conflicting diplomatic initiatives for the Jews or the Arabs. Although Pius XII was sympathetic to the Palestinian desire for self-determination, he opposed violent means to achieve that end, as he informed a visiting Palestinian delegation in 1946. This pope hoped and believed that the conflict over the future of Jerusalem could be resolved diplomatically, a message he also conveyed to Moshe Shertok, head of the Jewish agency’s Political Department and subsequently Israel’s foreign minister, whom he received in April 1945.

Initially Pius XII sought to preserve his “impartiality” on the Palestinian conflict just as he had during the course of World War II, having others defend the Vatican stance in favor of the internationalization of Jerusalem. He related his position to a group of Jewish refugees who visited him in November 1945. Probably expecting this group to ask him to lend support for a Jewish state in Palestine, Pius indirectly explained why he could not. The Church does not involve herself in political problems and territorial issues, he related, but he offered the prospect of some help by adding that the Church lays foundations for their solution. This ambiguous, indeed enigmatic, assertion provided no clue concerning the solution he favored. Pius was no more explicit in an encyclical he issued in 1948 following the outbreak of the Arab-Israeli war, which claimed that impartiality was imposed as an apostolic duty, placing the Holy See above the conflicts that agitate human society. In fact, however, this recourse to “impartiality” over the future of Palestine was more rhetoric than reality.

Pius XII soon had to review his position, as did the British. The latter confronted colonial disputes elsewhere and were anxious to protect their own colonies, and so in early 1947 they turned the thorny problem of Jerusalem over to the newly formed United Nations. The British decision to withdraw disappointed the Vatican, which nonetheless believed that the next best solution was to have its administration entrusted to the United Nations. The U.N. Special Committee on Palestine subsequently recommended the partition of Palestine and the internationalization of Jerusalem. The resolution of the General Assembly of November 29, 1947, provided that the city of Jerusalem and its immediate environs would be governed as a corpus separatum under an international regime administered by the United Nations. This limited the role and responsibility of the U.N., although its administration would still cover some hundred square miles of territory and a population of over 200,000, and would encompass Bethlehem and the other suburbs of Jerusalem. The Arabs rejected the proposal. The Vatican tacitly accepted U.N. Resolution 181, even though at this time it had reservations about the partition of the Holy Land into Jewish and Arab states. However, from the Holy See’s perspective, the partition was rendered palatable by the proposed internationalization of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The Vatican’s approval of the plan was reflected in the support it received from the countries of Latin America, Belgium, France, and the Philippines, all protective of the interests of the Church. Zionists, who opposed Jerusalem’s internationalization, believed that these Catholic countries had been pressured by the Vatican to favor it.

Following the General Assembly’s approval of the partition and the British withdrawal from Palestine in mid-May 1948, David Ben-Gurion announced the creation of the state of Israel, which was attacked by the surrounding Arab states while King Abdullah of Jordan conquered that part of Jerusalem that contained most of the holy places. In October 1948, Pius XII released an encyclical calling for the internationalization of Jerusalem and supporting the cause of the Muslim and Catholic refugees, some 800,000 of whom were either ejected or fled from the territory that fell under Israeli control. The Jewish state, immediately recognized by the United States and the Soviet Union, resisted the internationalization sought by the Vatican and approved by the United Nations. Pius XII continued to insist on the internationalization of Jerusalem, and at the end of 1949 the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution for such an internationalization. This resolution was in turn rejected by Israel and Jordan, which controlled sections of the city. In 1949 Pius XII established the Pontifical Mission for Palestine—a humanitarian effort to provide Palestinian refugees with food, housing, and essential services. By this and other measures he was the first modern pope to open serious relations with the Muslim world. In 1949 Egypt became the first Muslim state to establish formal diplomatic relations with the Holy See.

The renewed outbreak of war in the Middle East in 1956 disturbed Pius, who expressed concern over the plight of the people of the region and the likely damage to the holy sites. His refusal to recognize Israel was not based on anti-Judaism, which indeed persisted in the Church, but was in response to the Israeli refusal to adhere to the U.N. resolutions on the internationalization of Jerusalem, which Pius invoked on three separate occasions in the postwar period. Other factors contributing to the Vatican’s refusal to recognize Israel included Israel’s unwillingness to permit the return of displaced Palestinians, and the fact that it proclaimed Jerusalem its capital without recognizing any international protection for the adherents of non-Jewish religions. Although Americans clearly favored Israel, Vatican support for the Arab stance in the Middle East did not interfere with U.S. and Vatican cooperation elsewhere. Pius XII sought to improve the Vatican’s diplomatic position in the Middle East and the Islamic world by establishing relations with Syria and Iran in 1953, while preserving the friendship of Jordan and Egypt. In 1953, despite its close cooperation with the United States and the Western European powers in the Cold War against the Soviet Union, Pius once again proclaimed Papal “impartiality” and freedom from any political alliance or bloc.

The Second Vatican Council and Its Aftermath

John XXIII (1958-1963), who convoked the Second Vatican Council and encouraged a dramatic improvement in Catholic-Jewish relations, brought about no immediate official change in the Vatican’s position on Israel and Palestine. Nonetheless, the improvement in relations between the two faiths inevitably improved relations between the Vatican and Israel, which continued during the pontificate of Paul VI (1963-1978). In 1963 Paul was the first pope since apostolic times to visit the Holy Land; he stopped in Jordan and Israel, and preached peace and unity. Following the Six-Day War of June 5-10, 1967, in which Israel occupied Sinai, the Old City of Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights, and defeated an Egyptian, Jordanian, and Syrian alliance, Paul VI moderated the previous Vatican demand for the extraterritoriality of Jerusalem. At this juncture the pope invoked international guarantees for the rights of Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Holy City. In his Christmas message of 1967 he cited two conditions that had to be met to assure peace and provide a just settlement in Palestine. The first was the need to provide security and guarantees for the holy places, and the second was to assure the civil and religious rights of the Palestinian people and the right of return for those forced to flee.

To attain these ends, Paul VI proved willing to make concessions, and in 1974 he completely abandoned the earlier Vatican demand for the internationalization of Jerusalem. By this and other means he set the stage for an eventual agreement with the Jewish state. While Paul tacitly acknowledged the sovereignty of the state of Israel, he insisted on certain guarantees for the Church and the Palestinians before diplomatic relations between it and the Vatican could be established. He presented his position to Israeli Jews in December 1975, noting he was aware of the “recent tragedies which led the Jewish people to search for safe protection in a state of its own.” Recognizing and recalling the tragedy of the Holocaust, he called upon the sons of these people to recognize the rights of another people who have also suffered for a long time, the Palestinians. There was also continued concern for the security of the holy places including the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, the Sanctuary of the Ascension, the Tomb of the Virgin, the Basilica of the Nativity at Bethlehem, and the Field of the Shepherds at Bethlehem, among others.

The Contemporary Papacy and Palestine

The Vatican of John Paul II (1978-2005) continued the rapprochement with the Israeli state and by the 1980s recognized the factual existence of Israel and its right to exist within secure borders. However, two issues continued to block formal recognition of the Israeli state and the opening of diplomatic relations: the status of Jerusalem and its holy sites, and the plight of the Palestinian people. John Paul II also opened a dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), a political and military organization formed in 1964 to unite various Palestinian Arab groups with the ultimate goal of bringing about an independent state of Palestine. In 1982, the first pope to visit a synagogue and mosque met with Yasser Arafat of the PLO. Despite the criticism of some, he met with Arafat eight more times over the course of the following two decades, and he concluded a basic agreement between the Holy See and the PLO. At the same time he maintained contact with the Israelis, and at the beginning of 1991 the papal press secretary outlined the Vatican’s position toward Israel and Palestine. His release noted that according to international law the Holy See implicitly recognized the state of Israel, but that diplomatic relations had not been established because of a number of unresolved issues. These included the plight and position of the Palestinians, the rights of the Catholic population of Palestine and Israel, and the status of Jerusalem.

Following the Gulf War of 1990-1991, the subsequent Madrid Conference of 1991, which was jointly sponsored by the United States and the Soviet Union, brought together Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinians. It was a watershed event that for the first time saw Israel enter into direct, face-to-face negotiations with Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinians, and it seemingly promised finally to bring peace to the Middle East. Two positive developments emerged. The first was the opening of negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians to settle their differences; the second, which followed upon the first, was the opening of talks between the Vatican and Israel in order to establish full diplomatic relations—which were ultimately established at the end of 1993. That same year talks opened in Norway between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, which launched what became known as the Oslo Peace Process. On September 13, 1993, representatives of the state of Israel and the PLO signed the “Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements,” a document also known as the “Oslo Accords.” They were signed at a Washington ceremony hosted by U.S. President Bill Clinton on September 13, 1993, during which Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin ended decades as sworn enemies with a handshake and what seemed to be the prospect of a two-state solution—which John Paul II favored.

The opening of relations between the Vatican and Israel led to extensive talks between the two regarding the legal status of the Catholic Church and its institutions in the Israeli state. An agreement was concluded in November 1997 and ratified on February 3, 1999, which regularized the status and legal position of Catholicism and its institutions in Israel. Among other things, it established the Church’s rights in Israel in accordance with the laws of the Jewish state: freedom of religion, freedom of worship, and freedom of access to the holy places. The negotiations between Israel and the PLO proved far less successful. Israeli talks with Yasser Arafat brought about only a partial transfer of power to the Palestinians and no permanent agreement. This played a part in provoking the intifada in 1987—the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. These developments worried the Vatican, which had predicted an increase in violence if there were no peaceful solution to the plight of the Palestinian people.

In fact the continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza led to the 1987 formation of Hamas, which assumed a more militant, and some said terrorist, response. Its defiance of Israel made it popular among many Palestinians, but its recourse to violence only provoked deadly Israeli retaliation. The escalation of violence troubled the last years of the pontificate of John Paul II, whose diplomacy proved no more successful than that of the United Nations in finding a solution to the problems of Palestine.

Benedict XVI, who in 2005 succeeded John Paul II as pope, shared his predecessor’s concern for the difficult situation in the Middle East. The victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections at the beginning of 2006, the civil war between Hamas and Fatah that ensued, the Israeli invasion of Hamas-controlled Gaza in December 2008, and its withdrawal in January 2009 all combined to create consternation in the Vatican. Although more of a theologian than a diplomat, Benedict recognized the need for a diplomatic solution to the conflict over Palestine. His solution echoed that of his predecessor—the need for an independent Palestinian state alongside a secure Jewish state. This was the message he hoped to convey and repeated during the course of his mid-May 2009 visit to the Holy Land, which he viewed as a pilgrimage of peace to encourage harmony between Israelis and Palestinians. Benedict also saw the trip as a means of seeking reconciliation with Muslims and Jews: with the first for an unfortunate citation about Islam in an earlier speech, and with the latter for lifting the 1988 excommunication of four members of the Society of Saint Pius X, one of whom has called into question the veracity of the Holocaust.

In Bethlehem, on Palestinian soil, Benedict XVI sympathized with their suffering and offered a prayer to have the Israeli’s lift their blockade of Gaza and tear down their walls in the West Bank. To maintain papal impartiality he also called upon Palestinians to shun violence and terrorism against Israel and to seek a peaceful alternative to their occupation. While given a respectful reception first in Jordan, then the West Bank, and finally Israel, Benedict witnessed firsthand the prevailing antagonisms and difficulties hindering a just and peaceful solution in the Middle East. The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, complained that the Catholic population of Jerusalem and the West Bank was shrinking day by day because of the unjust occupation of Palestinian land and the host of humiliations imposed by the Israelis on all Palestinians, Christians as well as Muslims. In an interreligious meeting held at the Notre Dame center in Jerusalem, Sheik Taysir al Tamimi, the chief Palestinian justice who was not scheduled to speak, grabbed the microphone and denounced the unjust and oppressive Israeli occupation, prompting many Jewish attendees to protest by leaving the meeting. In turn, some Jews felt that the pope was too detached in his comments on the Holocaust. The speaker of Israel’s parliament denounced Benedict for not showing sufficient personal contrition, and he described the pope as a German who joined the Hitler Youth and the German army.

Benedict was not discouraged by the difficulties his peace mission confronted or the personal attacks; he was confident that eventually peace and justice would prevail, and that the Israelis and Palestinians would live peacefully side by side in separate states. The written message he left May 12, 2009, in the Old City of Jerusalem at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest prayer site, was an appeal to God to bring his peace upon this Holy Land, the Middle East, and the entire human family. Subsequently, at the end of May, U.S. President Barack Obama told the visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that, like the pope, he supported a two-state solution to the Palestinian dispute. When President Obama visited a number of Arab states and Israel in June 2009, he repeated this call for the establishment of a two-state solution—which is supported by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council: the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, and China, as well as the Holy See. The Vatican journal L’Osservatore Romano, established by Pope Pius XII’s grandfather, praised the U.S. president’s stance, which echoed that of Pope Benedict XVI. Awaiting full sovereignty, the Palestinian entity, like the Vatican, has been granted Permanent Observer status at the United Nations.