By Cian Molloy - 11 December, 2017
As tensions mount in the Middle East following the decision by US President Donald Trump to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the Vatican says it is closely monitoring the situation and the Pope is praying that political leaders do everything to avert a new spiral of violence.
Despite last minute appeals by the Pope, the Latin Patriarch and Church leaders across the globe, President Trump announced last Wednesday that the United States Embassy in Israel would move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The move immediately sparked protests in many Arab countries, and two people were killed in Palestine when Israeli troops opened fire on protesters. The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem said, “We are all worried about the violence that could be unleashed and the unpredictable consequences.” The city of Jerusalem is sacred to the world’s three major monotheistic religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
Following Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948, and the Arab-Israeli war that followed it, Jerusalem became a divided city – West Jerusalem ruled by Israel and East Jerusalem annexed by Jordan. Then during the 1967 Six Day War, Israel captured East Jerusalem and annexed it, putting it under direct Israeli rule – a move that was condemned unanimously by a UN General Assembly Resolution. While Israel has claimed Jerusalem as its capital, the international community has not recognised the city as such, and have maintained their embassies and consulates in Tel Aviv. Moreover, under international law, the 200,000 Israelis living in East Jerusalem are seen as illegal settlers. However, Israel has made it difficult for Palestinians to buy property in East Jerusalem and stops Palestinian NGOs from operating there.
Peacemakers had hoped that a final settlement might see Jerusalem becoming a joint capital for Israel and an independent Palestine, but Israel has always opposed such aspirations.
A press statement issued by the Vatican’s press office on Sunday said, “Concerns about peace prospects in the region are the subject of various initiatives over these days, including urgent meetings convened by the Arab League and the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation.
“The Holy See is sensitive to these concerns and, recalling the heartfelt words of Pope Francis, reiterates its well-known position regarding the unique nature of the Holy City and the indispensability of respecting the status quo, in accordance with the agreements of the international community and repeated requests of the hierarchies of the Churches and Christian communities of the Holy Land. At the same time, the Holy See reiterates its conviction that only a negotiated solution between Israelis and Palestinians can lead to a stable and lasting peace and guarantee the peaceful coexistence of two states within internationally recognised borders.”
A statement released by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem two days earlier, reaffirmed the Church’s position; “There is nothing that can prevent Jerusalem, in its uniqueness and unity, from becoming the national symbol of the two peoples that claim it as their capital. Israelis and Palestinians should reach an agreement that corresponds in some way to their legitimate aspirations and that respects the principles of justice. Unilateral decisions that change the current configuration of the city will not bring benefit, but only new tensions and they will remove the possibility of peace-making.”
While the Vatican has placed an emphasis on the continuing need for dialogue by all parties, for some now is not the time for talks. In Egypt, the Coptic Church has suffered from a series of violent attacks, including the bombing of Church buildings, by militant Muslim extremists. On Saturday, the head of the Coptic Church, Pope Toawadros II, cancelled a planned meeting with US vice president Mike Pence, partly in protest at the US decision on Jerusalem, and out of concern that such a meeting might lead to further attacks against Christians in Egypt.