VATICAN CITY — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warned Saturday that peace could suffer if the incoming Trump administration goes ahead with plans to move the US embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Abbas made the comments as he inaugurated the Palestinian embassy to the Holy See following an audience with Pope Francis.
Speaking through an Italian translator, Abbas said he had only heard of the proposal by US President-elect Donald Trump to move the embassy to Jerusalem, and couldn’t comment officially unless and until it happens.
But he added: “If this is the decision, to transfer the embassy to Jerusalem, it will not help peace and we hope it doesn’t happen.”
The Palestinians strongly oppose the 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 holy city.
Trump hasn’t yet laid out a clear Mideast policy, but has signaled he will be more sympathetic to Israel’s hard-line right than previous administrations. He has also vowed to move the US embassy.
Abbas has written to Trump warning of the risks of such a move and asked him to reconsider, while also flagging the concern to Arab and other world leaders, said the Palestinian foreign minister, Riyad Malki.
The Vatican has long sought an internationally guaranteed status for Jerusalem that safeguards its sacred character. It was unclear if the Vatican would want to wade into the issue by mentioning Jerusalem in its post-audience communique.
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 Palestinian 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, located in the same building as the embassies of Peru, Ecuador and Burkina Faso, is a fruit of recent accords in which the Vatican formally recognized the “State of Palestine.”
In his comments to reporters, Abbas said he hoped other countries would follow the Vatican’s example and recognize the Palestinian state.