Pope Benedict is learning what so many others before him have found out the hard way. Achieving peace in the Middle East is a daunting - perhaps insurmountable task.
His trip, the first by a pope to the Middle East, is designed to promote peace and understanding. Respect between people who are separated by religion. Now in Jerusalem, he is calling both for a Palestinian state and for commemoration of the Holocaust in the hopes that such a huge act of inhumanity never happens again.
But he got a dose of reality, right between the eyes, when participating in an inter-religious meeting at the Notre Dame Jerusalem Center. Instead of the ecumenical common ground the pope sought, he was subjected to a rant by Sheik Tayseer Rajab Tamimi, the chief Islamic judge of the Palestinian Authority. You know, the Palestinian Authority - the more "moderate" of the political entities representing the Palestinian people.
Tamimi used his bully pulpit to complain about Israel killing women and children in the Gaza. He also declared Jerusalem the eternal capital of Palestine.
It was all too much for the pope to take and he walked out of the meeting. Although the pope shook Tamimi's hand on the way out, the Holy See issued a statement decrying the sheik's inappropriate behavior.
So, once again, at a forum which could have produced an avenue, via the Vatican, toward peace, a Palestinian representative acts in a way that closes the door.
Apparently Tamimi lacks understanding of what an inter-religious meeting attended by the pope is designed to do. If he wants to march and scream and holler about Israel's transgressions real and perceived, perhaps he should choose the park across the street from the United Nations.
His response was undignified and counterproductive. But perhaps, that was the whole idea. Keep derailing peace prospects and increase the agony of both the Palestinians and Israelis in the hopes of gaining political advantage over Israel.
I've always been a supporter of a two-state solution. But I fear that, even in this post-Arafat era, the Palestinian leadership lacks the willpower, or desire, to make it happen.