Palestine asks Vatican to defend Jerusalem’s status quo

By Andrea Gagliarducci

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Ryadh al Maliki. Credit: Ricardo Patino, CC 2.0

The Palestinian Foreign Affairs minister, Ryadh al Maliki, met officials of the Vatican Secretariat of State Feb. 16, asking the Holy See to amplify its voice defending the status quo in Jerusalem.
 
“It is important to understand that the situation of Jerusalem also deals with Christians,” the minister told CNA after the meeting, during a short briefing with journalists in the State of Palestine’s recently opened embassy to the Holy See.

“We would like the Holy See lead a conference of Christians in the Middle East, in order to make their voice stronger.”
 
Minister al Maliki met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, and then with Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Vatican “minister for foreign affairs.
 
Al Maliki reported that the meetings “shed light on the implication of President Trump’s decision to ‘award’ Jerusalem as capital of Israel, with the decision to transfer the US Embassy to Israel to the city.”
 
Trump’s decision, al Maliki said, “had the effect of connecting the city with only the Jewish world, setting aside the city’s connections with Christian and Muslims.”
 
This “also jeopardizes the negotiations,” concerning peace between Israel and Palestine, “because the issue of the status of Jerusalem was put off the table,” he said.
 
Al Maliki maintained that Palestine “wants to keep the conflict a a political level,” while Trump’s decision brings the issue to “a religious level.” He said  the status of the city is relevant to all religions which “recognize themselves in the city of Jerusalem.”
 
According to al Maliki, the Holy See expressed concern during the talks, and both parties agreed that the status quo of Jerusalem should be respected, and that the future of Jerusalem “must be negotiated and not imposed.”
 
The Holy See has made several recent statements regarding Jerusalem: Pope Francis made his latest appeal to respect the status quo in Jerusalem at the end of his Dec. 6, 2017 general audience.
 
On Dec. 10, the Holy See Press Office issued a communiqué reiterating that the Holy See maintained its position on the peculiar character of the Holy City, and stressed the importance of maintaining a compromise on the city’s status.

“Only a negotiated solution between Israelis and Palestinians can bring a stable and lasting peace,” and “guarantee the peaceful co-existence of two states within internationally recognized borders,” the statement said.
 
Minister Al Maliki stressed that the State of Palestine “recognized the Holy See’s efforts,” but asked the Holy See to further raise its voice.
 
Al Maliki said he asked the Holy See to take the lead of a conference of Christians in order to shed light on the fact that Christian denominations have an interest in Jerusalem.
 
“It is also important,” al Maliki said “to give a signal to the Christians in the Holy Land, who feel abandoned and under pressure.”
 
He said that, after President Trump’s decision, the Israeli government has started to increase pressure on Palestinian Christians, “making their life harder,” by “imposing taxes, freezing the bank accounts and confiscating properties.”
 
According to al Maliki, this pressure aims at “changing the sacred character of the city, and to turn the city into a Jewish one.”
 
In particular, al Maliki is referring to a recent decision of Nir Barkat, Jerusalem’s mayor, to begin assessing municipal taxes on some church properties.  

In a joint statement, the Churches of Jerusalem stressed that this decision “goes agaist the historic position throughouth the centuries of the Churches and the Holy City of Jerusalem,” and that the measure “undermines the sacred character of Jerusalem, and jeopardises the Church’s ability to conduct its ministry in this land on behalf of its communities and the world-wide church.”
 
According to al Maliki, neither Cardinal Parolin or Archbishop Gallagher objected to the idea of a conference under the Holy See’s lead. However, no decision has yet been made.
 

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