Sunday, April 26, 2009

Is Israel prepared for the papal visit? -- Concerns expressed over construction, security.

Is Israel prepared for the papal visit? -- That's the question several articles posed this week, citing concerns about construction and more importantly, security.

According to YNet News, Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov plans to announce Sunday during the weekly government meeting that the NIS 43 million ($10.1 million) budget set aside for Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Israel has not yet been put to use:

[Mesezhnikov warned] that construction of infrastructure and renovations have not been completed on the holy sites the pope plans on visiting.

Misezhnikov says the main reason for the delay is that the funds have not been transferred to the government ministries and organizations involved in preparing the holy tour. He claims the Finance Ministry's Budget Division is to blame.

He also says that a number of legal points of contention between Israel and the Vatican have not been smoothed over, an issue under the supervision of the Justice Ministry.

On a similar note, Israel's security service, Shin Bet, expressed concerns that the 'Pope Mobile' may not be secure enough to guard against an attack by Islamic radical groups in Nazareth:

The Holy See told the Israeli government that the pope wants to get as close as possible to his followers, so the Vatican hopes the pope will use the vehicle.

But the Shin Bet opposes this, citing pamphlets in Arab towns in the north calling for demonstrations during the visit. Other pamphlets by radical Islamists allegedly call for physical attacks on the pope.

The Vatican said it understood the security concerns and wanted to find a solution.

Haaretz also notes the timing of the visit as another source of concern. The papal visit falls on May 14 - Nakba Day, when Palestinians mourn the events of 1948 and the founding of Israel "The Shin Bet expects riots in the West Bank and over the Green Line."

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