B’nai B’rith International took up the issue of the need for a bilateral agreement between Israel and the Palestinians during an audience with Pope Francis last week, during the pontiff’s first meeting with a Jewish group following the Vatican’s announcement that it was entering into a treaty with the “State of Palestine.”The treaty with the Palestinians, which was signed on Friday, a day after the pope’s meeting with the B’nai B’rith delegation, elicited fierce opposition in Jerusalem, with the Foreign Ministry asserting that it “harms the international effort to convince the PA to return to direct negotiations with Israel.”Raising the issue with Francis, B’nai B’rith president Allan J. Jacobs said that he believed that “no enduring Palestinian-Israeli peace can be possible as long as powerful forces deny the right of a Jewish state to live within any boundaries in the Jews’ only ancestral homeland.“It is in light of this that it is so important that Palestinians not be afforded incentives to pursue political aims outside of meaningful and direct negotiations, compromise and comprehensive bilateral agreement with Israel,” he said.Jacobs praised the pope for his close relations with the Jews, citing his commitment to “advancing the path of your predecessors in signaling the Church’s commitment to the Jewish people, its respect for Judaism, its denunciation of persisting anti-Semitism, and its due recognition of the State of Israel.”Francis has maintained close ties with the Jewish community of his home country, Argentina, during his time as a cardinal there, and was widely feted by Jewish organizations when he ascended to the papacy in 2013.The B’nai B’rith delegation presented Francis with a copy of The Jerusalem Post from 1965 announcing the Vatican’s Nostra Aetate declaration, which absolved the Jewish people of any collective guilt over the death of Jesus and condemned anti-Semitism. Jacobs said that the Nostra Aetate provides hope for the resolution of other religious conflicts, praising Israel’s religious freedom and offering sympathies for the suffering of Christians in the Middle East.The “continuing, extraordinary transformation in the relationship between our faith communities can serve as a source of inspiration and optimism for so many others around the world, not least at a time of tensions and conflicts too often influenced by religion,” Jacobs said.“Looking back on these 50 years of regular dialogue between the Catholic Church and Judaism, I cannot help but thank the Lord for the great progress that has been made,” the pope replied.“Many initiatives fostering reciprocal understanding and dialogue have been undertaken; above all a sense of mutual trust and appreciation has developed. There are many areas in which we as Jews and Christians can continue to work together for the good of the peoples of our time. Respect for life and creation, human dignity, justice and solidarity, unite us for the development of society and for securing a future rich in hope for generations to come. In a particular way, we are called to pray and work together for peace.“Unfortunately, there are many countries and regions of the world that live in situations of conflict – I think in particular of the Holy Land and the Middle East – and that require a courageous commitment to peace, which is not only to be longed for, but sought after and built up patiently and tenaciously by everyone, especially believers,” Francis said.