Sharon Will Have to Pursue Peace, Franciscan Says

Recalls That Israeli Once Promised to Block Mosque in Nazareth

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JERUSALEM, FEB. 7, 2001 ( Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon will have to continue the Mideast peace process if he doesn´t want to lose popular support, a Franciscan said, in the wake of the Likud Party leader´s victory over Ehud Barak.

Franciscan Father David Jaeger, member of the Holy Land Custody and one of the architects of the agreements between Israel and the Vatican, told the missionary agency Fides ( that the «Israelis´ vote was not against Barak´s peace policy, but against his administrative deficiencies. If Sharon does not continue the peace process, he will lose all popular consensus.»

Another of the Franciscan custodians of the Holy Land, Father Michele Piccirillo, of the Franciscan Biblical Institute, said he is optimistic. «The Arab and Israeli peoples are tired, and they no longer support violence,» he told the Italian press. «So, we are confident and hope that in the end the desire for peace will prevail.»

In regard to Sharon´s victory, the Franciscan was prudent. He said that the «end of the war does not depend solely on the victor.»

Father Jaeger said, who is an Israeli of Jewish origin, cautioned, «What is especially worrying is the future of relations with neighbors, especially with the Palestinians: Everyone knows the position of the Prime Minister-elect, his party, and the other parties of the right.»

But Father Jaeger added, «Sharon appears to be aware of this concern, and has tried to come close not only to neighboring countries, but also to that clear majority of Israelis who have always supported the peace process.»

The priest recalled that when Sharon was Foreign Minister in Benjamin Netanyahu´s government, he promised the Vatican he would block the construction of the Nazareth mosque, planned by radical Islamic groups.

The Franciscans are not opposed to the construction of places of worship in the Holy Land. They simply state that, in previous years, the promoters of the initiative have attacked Christians and pilgrims as they left the Basilica of the Annunciation, and that the mosque is not needed for religious reasons but to provoke tension and violence.

«In Christian ecclesiastical circles the wish has been expressed that Sharon will be faithful to his promises and annul the decision of the Barak government to construct the mosque at the doors of the Basilica of the Annunciation of Nazareth,» Father Jaeger explained.

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