As a meeting of Roman Catholic bishops from the Middle East closed on Monday, Pope Benedict XVI expressed a hope for Jerusalem: that the city "be able to acquire its proper status, which respects its particular character, its holiness and the religious patrimony of the three religions: Jewish, Christian and Muslim".
His wish should not be controversial. Nor should the joint statement of Catholic bishops attending the recent Synod. They wrote that concepts of a promised land and a chosen people should not serve to justify violence or the removal of people from their homes.
That members of the Israeli government have labelled these statements "Arab propaganda" and claimed that anti-Israel elements "hijacked" the gathering of Catholic bishops, reveals much about their character.
What is now Israel and the West Bank is a common point of origin for Islam, Christianity and Judaism and the homeland of their shared patriarch, Abraham. The majority of the time that the three faiths have coexisted in these lands, they have maintained a reverence for the traditions of one another. There have, of course, been unfortunate exceptions. Israel's insistence on control of Jerusalem as its undivided capital is among them.
The importance of Pope Benedict's public rejection of Israel's exclusivist claim on Jerusalem is difficult to overestimate. He is the head of the world's largest Christian Church, which includes more than one billion adherents.
Pope Benedict and the bishops also expressed their concern with the fate of Christian communities in Israel and the West Bank. Unequal treatment of Israel's non-Jewish citizens, both Muslim and Christian, puts considerable pressure on them to leave. The recent discussion about a loyalty oath to Israel as a Jewish state is the latest example of the Israeli government's aggressive posture towards its non-Jewish citizens.
Of course, Christians in the Middle East have problems beyond Israel and the West Bank; their numbers throughout the region have declined from 20 per cent of the population in 1900 to 5 per cent today. But the sanctimonious response of Israel's deputy minister Danny Ayalon that "Israel is the one country in the region that is welcoming to Christians" is untrue and an attempt to cast Islam as an intolerant faith. One only needs to travel to Mushrif in Abu Dhabi, where a mosque, a Catholic church, and a Coptic church stand side by side, to see that this is not the case. There are 3.5 million Christians who call the Gulf their home.
The Holy Land's history is one defined by revelation. But what does Israel reveal about itself when it not only rejects, but fails to respect, the beliefs of Muslims and Christians, their property rights, and their access to sites sacred to their traditions?