Cardinal Renato Martino, a high Vatican official who has put his foot in his mouth before, does so big time yesterday commenting on the Annapolis conference. According to Reuters:

A senior Vatican cardinal said on Wednesday that all Palestinian refugees had a right to return to their homeland.

Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Vatican department that formulates refugee policy, made the comment as U.S. President George W. Bush was set to revive long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks at a White House summit.

Martino, you may remember, is the guy who claimed that Saddam Hussein was treated “like a cow” when he was captured in 2003, and advocated that the right to try Saddam for his crimes by taken away from Iraq, in part because he worried that the Iraqis might execute the tyrant.

“Palestinian refugees, like all other refugees, have a right to right to [sic] return to their homeland,” Martino said in response to a question about the 44-nation conference in Annapolis on Tuesday.

Martino did not make clear whether he meant refugees had a right to return to homes in what is now Israel or to an eventual Palestinian state.

Reuters is being disingenuous. The expression “right to return” has a very particular meaning in diplomatese, as Martino (who used to be the Vatican’s representative at the UN) is certainly well aware. The prelate is advocating that the Jewish state commit demographic suicide. Whether he was speaking for anyone but himself I have no idea, but if this in any way represents the thinking of his colleagues, the Vatican can kiss any influence it might have in Israel,and hence in the peace process, good-bye.