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Pope's agenda in Israel: honoring Holocaust victims, urging two-state solution

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"It was a communications fiasco. He wants the Jewish community to understand that [these decisions] were in no way meant to condone anti-Semitism or advance Holocaust denial," says Rabbi Rosen, an expert in Catholic-Jewish relations.

"Most people think we've been through a rough patch in Christian-Jewish relations," Rosen adds. "This visit will serve as a message to people that if there was a problem, it's obviously been solved." He added: "There's never been as much dialogue between the Vatican and the Jews as there is today."

Given the sensitivities surrounding Benedict's decisions and the stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, experts say that the pope will craft his message carefully and will choose his words in kind.

"Every speech will try to maneuver between all parties," says Amnon Ramon, a professor at Hebrew University's Swiss Center for Conflict Research, Management, & Resolution. "I think Israelis will be listening to what he says at Yad Vashem [Israel's Holocaust Memorial Museum], and when in Bethlehem he will say something about the Palestinian tragedy. It's quite a complicated mission."

Professor Ramon notes the difference between this visit and that of Pope John Paul II, who came here in March 2000, half a year before the second intifada, or uprising, broke out. There was far more optimism in the air, bolstered by a worldwide appreciation for the ailing pope, factors that paved the way for a much smoother visit.

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