Vatican urges peace talks while Palestinian President Abbas meets Pope Francis

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas held a private audience with Pope Francis on Thursday and met with top Vatican officials, who stressed the importance of resuming peace negotiations with Israel.

Abbas, who had met the pope several times before, spoke with Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and de facto Foreign Minister Paul Gallagher during a trip to Rome, which also included a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

The Vatican later said, “it is stressed that it is absolutely necessary to reactivate direct dialogue in order to reach a two-state solution, also with the help of a more vigorous effort on the part of the international community.”

It “reiterated that Jerusalem must be recognized by all as a place of encounter and not of conflict, and that its status must preserve its identity and universal value as a Holy City for all three Abrahamic religions.”

The Israeli coalition led by a new hardline nationalist prime minister, Naftali Bennett, has no common position on ending the annual Palestinian conflict, hampering any formal diplomatic negotiations.

But recent visits to Abbas by three Israeli cabinet ministers indicate that both sides are keen to promote stability and improve ties, even if peace negotiations remain off the table at present.

On Vatican Thursday, the pope and Abbas exchanged gifts and then held hands as Abbas wished the pope good health and strength to move forward, according to footage released by the Vatican.

In what Vatican News said was their sixth meeting in the Vatican, Abbas gave the pope a representation in amber from the Grotto of the Nativity, an underground cave in Bethlehem where Christians believe Jesus was born.

During his trip, Abbas also met with Italian Prime Minister Draghi and the country’s head of state, President Sergio Mattarella.

At their meeting on Wednesday, Draghi “expressed his support for a speedy resumption of the bilateral dialogue” and “a just, sustainable and negotiated two-state solution,” the prime minister’s office said.

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