Abbas Meets with Pope, Opens Palestinian Embassy in Vatican

January 17, 2017

by: Ilse Posselt

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View of St. Peter’s Square from top of Michelangelo’s Dome

Tuesday, 17 January 2017 | Over the weekend, as 70 high-level dignitaries of various countries flocked to France for the Paris Peace Conference, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas also set out for Europe. His final destination was, however, not the French capital but rather the Vatican, seat of the Roman Catholic Church, for a get-together with the man at the helm, Pope Francis.

The PA president and the pontiff met for a 23-minute private audience on Saturday afternoon, the third meeting between the two men. Abbas did not attend empty handed. He came bearing gifts emphasizing Israel as the birthplace of Christianity: a stone from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and a documentary explaining the restoration process on the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem.

Following the private audience, Abbas inaugurated the PA embassy to the Vatican. As the red, black, white and green flag unfurled over the small building that would in future serve as the base for Palestinian diplomats, Abbas decried the notion that US President-elect, Donald Trump, plans to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and issued an impassioned call for world leaders to recognize the Palestinian state.

The inauguration comes after the Holy See formally recognized the Palestinian state in 2013 and then signed an accord with the PA two years ago to upgrade relations and pave the way for the establishment of a Palestinian foreign mission. The new Palestinian embassy is located right outside the Vatican walls in a building owned by the Holy See which has rented it to the PA since last year.

Abbas hailed the opening of the embassy as “a sign that the pope loves the people of Palestine and loves peace.”

During a brief address to reporters in Rome, Abbas told his audience that relocating the American embassy would “certainly not be a help” to breathe new life into the flailing peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. “Any attempts at legitimizing the annexation of the city will destroy the prospects of any political process, bury the hopes for a two-state solution and fuel extremism in our region, as well as worldwide,” the PA President threatened.

During his election campaign, Trump vowed that he would move the US embassy in Israel from its current location in Tel Aviv to the City of Gold, should he be chosen as the next American president. Since his election two months ago, speculations have been rife that Trump might make good on the promise with a top aide even revealing that the move is a “top priority.”

The status of Jerusalem has been one of the key issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Up until 1967, Judea and Samaria, including east Jerusalem and the Old City, was under Jordanian control. During the Six Day War, Israel recaptured the area reunifying the City of Gold and proclaiming Jerusalem as the undivided, eternal capital of the Jewish people. Various UN nations, including the US, refuse to acknowledge Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and thus maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv. The Palestinians claim Judea and Samaria as lands designated for their prospective state and hail east Jerusalem as its intended capital. Should Trump decide to move the embassy to Jerusalem, it would signify that the US accepts the City of Gold as Israel’s capital, a move that Abbas is trying to avoid at all costs.

The PA president also used his Vatican meeting as a podium to accuse Israel of a whole host of evil, including “turning Jerusalem into an exclusive Jewish city, demolishing Palestinian homes, expanding illegal settlements, building an illegal annexation wall and isolating our occupied capital from the rest of Palestine.”

The Vatican’s comments regarding Saturday’s events were somewhat less direct than Abbas’s. In a formal statement released after the meeting, the Holy See explained that the pope and the PA president discussed “the peace process in the Middle East, and hope was expressed that direct negotiations between the parties will be resumed to bring an end to the violence that causes unacceptable suffering to civilian populations and to find a just and lasting solution.”

Posted on January 17, 2017

Source: (Bridges for Peace, 17 January 2017)

Photo Credit: Diliff/wikipedia

Photo License: Wikipedia