VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has long sought an internationally guaranteed status for Jerusalem that safeguards its sacred character.
At an event Saturday for the opening of the Palestinian Embassy to the Holy See, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with Pope Francis. After the meeting, in its communique, the Vatican didn’t refer to Jerusalem by name but said during the talks that “emphasis was placed on the importance of safeguarding the sanctity of the holy places for believers of all three of the Abrahamic religions.”
The meeting and statements came in the wake of news reports that President-elect Donald Trump plans to relocate the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move that Abbas warned could put prospects for peace in peril.
The Palestinians strongly oppose the embassy move, saying it would kill any hopes for negotiating an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement and rile the region by undercutting Muslim and Christian claims to the city.
“We hope that this news is not true, because it is not encouraging and will disrupt and hinder the peace process,” Abbas said Saturday. He urged Trump to open a dialogue with both Israelis and Palestinians.
Trump hasn’t yet laid out a clear Middle East policy but has signaled that he will be more sympathetic to Israel’s hard-line right than previous U.S. administrations.
The Vatican, which keeps its embassy to Israel in Jaffa and backs a two-state solution, implicitly recognized a Palestinian state for years, but in 2015 made it official by signing a treaty with the Palestinians.
As he was leaving the pope’s study, Abbas said the opening of the new embassy to the Vatican was “a sign that the pope loves the people of Palestine and loves peace.”
In its statement, the Vatican called for a resumption of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians “to bring an end to the violence that causes unacceptable suffering to civilian populations, and to find a just and lasting solution.”
It called for a climate that could lead to “courageous decisions.”
During the meeting, Abbas presented Francis with gifts recalling Christianity’s birthplace in the Holy Land, including a stone from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and documentation about the ongoing restoration of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
After the papal meeting, Abbas formally inaugurated the new embassy across the street from one of the main gates of Vatican City. He pulled back a curtain revealing a plaque and extended the Palestinian flag from a flagpole outside a window.
The embassy, which is in the same building as the embassies of Peru, Ecuador and Burkina Faso, comes after recent accords in which the Vatican formally recognized the “State of Palestine.”
“This embassy is a place of pride for us, and we hope all of the countries of the world will recognize the state of Palestine, because this recognition will bring us closer to the peace process,” he said.