From personal experience, I can say that every visit of an important figure is planned weeks and months in advance. Every minute, every statement, every word, even a wink – are all planned and calculated ahead of time.
Indeed, Pope Francis is exceptional as he deviates occasionally from the strict protocol and mocks the visits' organizers behind their backs, but there is a limit to these deviations, which are usually marginal.
In the pope's Mideast visit, the two hosting sides crossed nearly every line. Both the Palestinians and the Israelis deviated from the original plan and waged a war of tricks and shticks at the expense of the leader of the Catholic masses, which include a billion and several hundreds of millions of people around the world.
Vatican officials in Rome are probably already analyzing what happened to their man and how will the sensitive visit be measured in the centers of conflict in the Middle East. Many in the world, not just Catholics, are displeased with the games at the pope's expense.
In all fairness, it's safe to determine that the Palestinians beat us in straying from the rules of the game and in impoliteness. According to Israel, during the Bethlehem prayer attended by Pope Francis, an image of Jesus in a keffiyeh (a square cotton headdress usually worn by Arab men) was visible in the background.
The Palestinians ridiculed the occasion and the praying pope, but the highlight was of course the picture published all over the world: Francis standing next to the separation wall which was built to prevent acts of terror. The Palestinians say it was the pope's idea to approach the wall and touch it, and his escorts have neither confirmed nor denied it. In any event, the picture published around the world this week served the Palestinian propaganda.
'But the Palestinians started it'
In the Prime Minister's Office, Benjamin Netanyahu's successes and failures are measured, apparently, according to pictures on the television and in the newspapers. That is what they are mostly interested in. And so they had a splendid idea: The Palestinians presented the separation wall to the pope? We will present the Memorial to the Victims of Terror. Francis immediately understood the need for a "proper response" and agreed to pose for a photograph next to it.
This allegedly achieved a tie between the two sides' propaganda systems. But unfortunately, successes and failures in the political field and in the relations with the world are not only measured according to the size of pictures in the newspaper. The world, which treats the Palestinians kindly, favors the picture of the pope next to the separation wall, which is turning into the Palestinians' "Western Wall."
In retrospect, one can say that it would have been better to exercise restraint. This conduct creates the impression of children's games, and the State of Israel should not have gotten swept away by these deviations.
"But the Palestinians started it," a governmental source said Monday in response to my question. And that's precisely the issue: We always claim to be different, better. What happened this time?