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NETANYAHU PICKS A FIGHT WITH THE VATICAN.

Israel's right wing prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu's, list of enemies, or at least people with whom he has picked a fight, is getting longer by the day.

First it was his peace partners in the Palestinian National Authority, then the neighbour who signed peace treaties with two of his predecessors.

Internally the list included the peace camp and the liberals not to mention the Labour Party and Arab and left wing members of the Knesset, even President Ezra Weizman, who is neither a dove, nor quick-tempered, fell out with Mr Netanyahu. Last month Ami Ayalon, the head of the secret police, Shin Bet, joined the list.

Mr Ayalon's assessment that there was a risk of violence if the stalemate in the peace process continued, has politically embarrassed the Prime Minister who reportedly, told Mr Ayalon to "start looking for another job in the new year."

Foreign membership of the Netanyahu fan-club is fast diminishing. Not too long ago it seemed there were just a few hardline Arab leaders, still entrapped in their ideology of rejection, standing firm against Israel's golden boy.

Their number was soon to include the rest of the Arab leaders. Then, high profile Western statesmen joined the list, such as President Jacques Chirac of France and top European Union officials, who were accused of "unhelpful meddling in the peace process," when they caught the Israelis red handed in violating trade agreements.

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook left the club, at just about the same time as US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright became frustrated with her membership.

Now Mr Netanyahu has picked a fight with the Vatican at a time when hopes were raised among Roman Catholics that Pope John Paul II would visit the Holy Land for the millennium.

Mr Netanyahu was trying to block the appointment of Palestinian Archbishop Pierre Mouallem to lead mainly Arabic-speaking Melkite Christians in the northern Israeli region of Galilee last month.

On 6 August the hardline Israeli leader charged that archbishop Mouallem, who until his appointment was a bishop in Brazil, had been chosen under pressure from officials of the Palestine Liberation Organisation like Farouk Kaddoumi and Palestinian supporters in the Catholic Church. He angered the Vatican by naming Hilarion Capucci, a former Melkite archbishop of Jerusalem, as the one responsible for influencing the Mouallem choice. Rev. Capucci was convicted of smuggling guns from Lebanon to Israel in 1975 and spent two years in an Israeli prison. Pope Paul VI won Capucci's release by promising the prelate would never return to the region.

The Vatican made it known in July that the Pope appointed Mouallem archbishop of Akko, a diocese of 45,000 Melkite Christians in Galilee. Melkite Christians follow an Eastern Rite liturgy of Roman Catholicism and accept the authority of Rome. Israeli officials told reporters that Archbishop Mouallem, a 70 year old Arabic-speaker, born in Ailaboun near Nazareth who became a refugee during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, harbours PLO sympathies.

"We think there should not be any politicisation of the choices of emissaries on the part of the church," Mr Netanyahu told reporters.

The Vatican was quick to rebuff Mr Netanyahu's efforts and made a terse, swift and uncompromising response within hours of his remarks.

"In the nomination of His Excellency Mouallem the synod of the Greek Catholic Church carried out its duties free from any external pressures," a Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, said in a written statement.

"The fundamental accord existing between the Holy See and the state of Israel", the statement went on, "provides for the autonomy of church and state, each in its own sphere."

Israeli newspapers reported, on the same day as the Vatican response was made public, that Mr Netanyahu had suggested a different candidate, the Rev. Emil Shufani viewed by the Israelis as more moderate. The Prime Minister's office confirmed that Mr Netanyahu had met with Rev. Shufani, and other leaders of the Greek Catholic Church.

Asked whether the Vatican had any intention of changing the nomination to avoid politicising the issue, Rev. Benedettini replied, "On the contrary."

This is the first open confrontation between the Holy See and the Jewish State since they established diplomatic relations in 1994, an historic step, initiated by the pope as he intended to end 2,000 years of hostility between Catholics and Jews.
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Author:Darwish, Adel
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Sep 1, 1998
Words:720
Previous Article:DID BRITAIN PLOT TO KILL THIS MAN?
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