Misquotes aside, Vatican is Abbas fan


Rarely has talk of angels caused so much strife. The Vatican has found itself at the centre of an international controversy over how, exactly, it perceives the angelic credentials of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Unfortunately for Mr Abbas, they seem to be in the process of a downgrade. If he read the Sunday papers, he would have noted, happily, that he was being labelled an "angel of peace".

By mid-Monday, he had been knocked off this pedestal, with most media coming round to the idea that he had the potential to be an "angel of peace" - but was not there yet.

Prominent news organisations, including the Associated Press, the BBC, and the New York Times, reported after a Saturday meeting in Rome that the host, Pope Francis, had called Mr Abbas an "angel of peace".

But according to other media, including in Italy, the Pope had told Mr Abbas to aspire to be an angel, telling him, "may you be an angel of peace". Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi has been quoted saying that he did not hear the Pope's exact words but the "sense of encouragement seems clear to me".

Mr Lombardi also commented that the gift from the Pope to Mr Abbas, a medallion bearing an angel of peace, was not unique to Abbas and is often given to presidents.

The Associated Press, which provided the original quote, issued a correction saying that it "erroneously omitted two words", and claimed that the Pope had really said "you are a bit of an angel of peace".

Amnon Ramon, an expert on the Vatican's relations in the Middle East, thinks that all the versions of the quote are believable. The episode, he said, reflected the Vatican's desire to elevate Mr Abbas's reputation within the church.

Dr Ramon, an academic at Hebrew University and Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, said that the Vatican's enthusiasm for the Palestinian cause goes back a long way. He added that the church may be hoping that it can use its relationship with Mr Abbas to propel Israel back into peace talks.

Better evidence of the Vatican's tendency to back the Palestinians emerged last week, when it finalised a bilateral treaty with the "state of Palestine", making explicit its recognition of Palestinian statehood. In addition, the day before Pope Francis met Mr Abbas, he canonised two 19th-century Palestinian nuns.

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