Pope Francis's reference to "the State of Palestine" in his speech Sunday morning in Bethlehem, and his unscripted pause at the security barrier, left official Israel cold, and was seized upon by Palestinian leaders as deeply symbolic in recognizing their national rights.
Early Sunday, Francis became the first pope to tour the Palestinian territory without first entering Israel. En route from Jordan, Francis also made an unscheduled stop at the security barrier at Bethlehem, touching the concrete wall — in a section, moreover, where graffiti asserted a comparison with the Warsaw Ghetto — and bowing his head in apparent prayer.
"The Vatican Pope stops at the racist wall in Bethlehem," read the headline of an article published by the official Palestinian Wafa news agency.
The Palestinians may need to swallow overtures no less meaningful toward the Jewish people and their state, as the first Pope to speak of the "State of Palestine" becomes the first pope to honor the founder of modern Zionism, laying a wreath at the grave of Theodor Herzl in Jerusalem.
For the first time, Pope Francis also recognized the Palestinian territories as the "State of Palestine".