Once more it appears that the United States, Israel, Palestine and their Arab neighbors might have a chance to make progress, if not toward peace, then at least toward alleviating the oppressive effects of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. The parties seriousness of commitment about improving the living conditions on the West Bank, however, is far from clear. In an effort to lower expectations prior to the Arab-Israeli summit June 25, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert played it as a photo op, where the entire Arab world will see two very prominent national leaders [Jordanian King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak] shaking hands with the head of the Palestinian Authority and the prime minister of the state of Israel, together and talking peace.
Even before the meeting took place, however, it was clear that the Israelis had rejected American proposals to re-initiate final status talks with the Palestinians. When former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was named special envoy to the Middle East later in the week, authorities stipulated that his mandate extended only to advising the Palestinians on improving their government and economic structures. With Hamas sidelined in Gaza, peace talks off the table and Mr. Blair without leverage on Israel, his mission threatens to be a fools errand. Last year another talented statesman, former World Bank President James M. Wolfensohn, resigned in frustration from a similar role for lack of support from the United States and Israel. One can only pray Mr. Blair will succeed where others have not.
Blame the Terrorists?
In a sharp exchange with a Congressional committee investigating the federal governments response to environmental concerns after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, Christie Whitman, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, insisted that those responsible for health hazards at the site were the terrorists who attacked the United States, not the men and women at all levels of government who worked heroically to protect and defend this country. In testifying before the 9/11 Commission, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani responded in similar terms when questioned about the failure of city agencies to plan for another terrorist attack in the aftermath of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
Blaming the terrorists for misleading assurances about the quality of the air in lower Manhattan and the failure to insist that workers at ground zero wear respirators was not an answer calculated to satisfy Mrs. Whitmans Congressional critics. Nor can such a defense absolve Mr. Giuliani of his responsibility for mistakes made in the aftermath of the 1993 attack: locating the emergency response center at the World Trade Center and failing to provide the communications technology and command structure that would have allowed city agencies to respond to the 2001 attack in a better coordinated manner.
At the same time, a review of the response of the federal government and New York City agencies to both the 1993 and the 2001 attacks is too important for partisan political sniping. We must be able to learn from the mistakes of the past, and we do not impugn the heroism of the victims of past attacks when we question decisions that may have contributed to their deaths.
A Great Mystery
Few ecclesiastical procedures are as misunderstood as the annulment process. Many Catholics find it difficult to believe that the church can declare a marriage null after a couple has been married and, in some cases, had children together. Recent reports that the annulment of Joseph P. Kennedys marriage was reversed by the Vatican will only further muddy the waters.
Kennedy, the son of the late Robert F. Kennedy, was granted an annulment in 1993 after he separated from his first wife, Sheila Rauch. The couple had been married for 12 years and had two children together. Rauch mounted a campaign to reverse the annulment, publishing a book (Shattered Faith) strongly criticizing the annulment process, claiming that Kennedy had used his familys influence to obtain the decree. The Vatican apparently reversed its decision in 2005, but Rauch was not notified until May of this year, after the document had been translated from Latin.
Contrary to a common misconception about annulments, the granting of an annulment does not mean that a wedding never took place or that children born of a union are illegitimate. Rather, an annulment is a declaration that according to church law, the marriage was not a sacramental union because certain essential elements were not present. Unfortunately, many people believe that money and influence play a decisive role in the granting of annulments.
The annulment process is necessarily a private one, dealing in the intimate details of a couples life together, so it is difficult to assess how these decisions are arrived at in particular cases. Nonetheless, it seems clear that the church needs to do a better job explaining how annulments are obtained. For too many Catholics the process remains a great mystery.