Pope Francis (R) talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a private audience at the Vatican City, May 16, 2015..
ROME – Saturday’s summit between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Pope Francis is expected to be a centerpiece of a series of events in Rome and Paris that will raise the Palestinian’s diplomatic profile and – some advocates hope – help restart stalled peace talks with Israel.
The events take place amid heightened tensions among Palestinians following statements from US President-elect Donald Trump on controversial plans to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
After his stop in Rome, Abbas will head to Paris to meet with French President François Hollande.
Representatives from at least 70 countries will gather at a conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but Abbas is not expected to formally participate.
US Secretary of State John Kerry will head the US delegation there, just days before his term expires to make way for the Trump administration on January 20.
The activities in Rome begin on Friday with the formal opening of the PA Embassy to the Holy See. Abbas will arrive a day later for his third encounter with the pontiff since the start of Francis’s papacy nearly four years ago.
After the meeting with Francis, Abbas will meet embassy staff and speak to reporters.
Key Vatican watchers say the summit between the two leaders could help change the tone of the Paris peace conference.
“If there’s one person in the world who has proven he can get disparate parties to sit around a table to negotiate, it’s Pope Francis,” Robert Mickens, a veteran Vatican specialist and editor in chief of Global Pulse magazine, said in an interview. “It could help lay the groundwork for the peace process to resume.”
Mai Aljaila, Palestine’s top diplomat in Italy, said Francis’s role should not be under-estimated.
“His Holiness, the pope, has proven himself to be a man with great vision, a man of peace,” she told The Jerusalem Post.
“It’s important for every country to have relations with the Holy See and with the pope. But that is especially true for Palestine.”
According to Vittorio Emanuele Parsi, an expert on international relations on the political science faulty at Italy’s Sacred Heart University, the pope’s involvement in the beleaguered peace process is especially important.
“The pope’s views are in line with those of the international community,” Parsi said in an interview.
“I don’t know how successful the Paris conference will be, but the pope’s role will surely add some stability to a situation that risks becoming less predictable with the new administration coming into power in the US.”
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