The Vatican is taking an active role in the search for settlement and peace in the Middle East.
Some may object that she has no right to do this since the Holy See does not diplomatically recognise either Israel or Jordan. But any independent voice currently raised in the cause of peace must surely be welcomed.
There is widespread alarm that the situation in Israel has indeed got out of control, and the recently ennobled Lord Jakobovits, Britain's Chief Rabbi, has indicated that he is willing to meet Dr Mughiam-al-Chamdi, Director General of the fsfamic Centre in Regent's Park, to discuss the possibility of a Jewish-Moslem approach to the Palestinian problem.
There was considerable support, it was reported, for such a meeting on the part of the Jewish community in this country, as also from Christian quarters. It must be hoped that the Moslem leader will agre° to the meeting.
The Pope has also, recently, met King Hussein of Jordan to discuss Middle East issues. The Vatican was said by a spokesman after the meetipo to view the Palestinian issue as a "question of international justice."
There is a strong feeling within Israel itself that this is very much the case and the Israeli Foreign Secretary, Shimon Preres, is known to favour negotiation and eventual compromise.
Unfortunately the balance of forces within the Israel government shuts out the voice of moderation because of the key votes of the religious parties who hold the balance of power.
The influence of such parties and voices is basically fundamentalist and fanatical. They reflect the views of Israel's Rabbinate, but the latter by no means reflects the feelings of Israelis as a whole.
The young people of Israel do not look upon their country as a "theocracy." And it is not one: Rather is it the only democracy in the Middle East. There is thus a strong case for a referendum on the status of the occupied territories.
The Vatican makes no secret of its Palestinian sympathies, and the eagerly-awaited visit to the Vatican of Israel's Prime Minister, Yitshak Shamir, thus assumes all the more potential importance.
The Palestinians are meanwhile the victims not only of brutal Israeli treatment but also of the Arab countries which are not united amongst themselves and have never done anything to help the Palestinians who have lived for years in camps in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
And yet it is within Arab power to help these people by material means and it has already been pointed out that this could be done with the proceeds of one day's sale of all the oil produced in the Middle East.
The Palestinians are thus victimised pawns in the Middle Eastern power game, wherein the stated PLO aim to drive Israel into the sea has never been reversed. If the Arab nations were willing to recognise Israel's right to exist, negotiations could start immediately for settling the Palestinian problem.
King Hussein's very visit to Rome was to promote an international peace conference on the Middle East. The Pope, through the King, sent his "best wishes to all the Jordanian people." The word all is italicised by us to show the obvious inference in the Pope's words that he favours the return of the West Bank of Jordan.
It is up to him now to show that he has equal good will toward Israel's rightful claims to its own existence. This would be a true act of statesmanship on his part and would be courageous affirmation in favour of justice.
The Vatican must thus be strictly neutral if its behindthe-scenes efforts in favour of Middle Eastern peace are to succeed. For any obvious favouring of one side against the other would only vitiate such efforts.
When a key member of the Vatican's policy staff, Mgr Silvestrini, recently received and had talks with Farouk Khaddoumi, the PLO's "Foreign Minister," the Vatican's strict neutrality in the whole affair was put in doubt. But it now has a golden chance to show that it favours justice to all the interested parties, including Israel, at a moment when innocent people are suffering for reasons which go far beyond the activities of the Israel police and military.
At a time when Israel itself is known to favour bilateral talks with the Arab nations, it is appropriate that the Vatican should back such efforts in specific terms. This would represent a notable breakthrough in Vatican attitudes.