Abbas, PLO lash Israel in Christmas messages

PA president calls Jesus a ‘Palestinian messenger,’ refers to Jerusalem as ‘occupied capital,’ but expresses commitment to talks

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Catholic priests attend Christmas celebrations in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Monday (photo credit: Nasser Shiyoukhi/AP)
Catholic priests attend Christmas celebrations in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Monday (photo credit: Nasser Shiyoukhi/AP)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas released a Christmas greeting Monday, calling Jesus a “Palestinian messenger” and implying that Israel persecutes Christians.

“As we Palestinians strive for our freedom two millennia later,” he wrote in a statement, “we do our best to follow his example. We work with hope, seeking justice, in order to achieve a lasting peace.”

Abbas reaffirmed the PA’s commitment to talks with Israel, “including ending the occupation of the Holy Land with the establishment of a fully independent and sovereign Palestinian State on the 1967 border with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

Abbas took the occasion to decry Israel’s security policies, saying, “this Christmas Eve, our hearts and prayers will be with the millions who are being denied their right to worship in their homeland.”

“We are thinking of our people in Gaza, trapped under siege, and of those who are prevented from worshiping in Bethlehem,” he said. “Our hearts and prayers are with the people of Al Dbayeh Refugee Camp in Beirut, along with all of our Palestinian refugees — Christians and Muslims uprooted from their hometowns in 1948 and who, since that time, have suffered the vicissitudes of a forced exile.”

The Palestinian Authority president also referred to Jerusalem as “our occupied capital.”

A YouTube clip released Sunday by the Palestine Liberation Organization pushed a similar theme, showing a glowing figure, presumably Jesus, holding a cross while traveling through the West Bank past scenes of destruction and armed Israeli soldiers and civilians. The figure, riding a chariot, comes up against Israel’s security barrier, but goes through it, ending up in Bethlehem.

“Christians are not a minority here,” Abbas’s statement read, as Christian populations have shrunk in Bethlehem and other cities in which they used to form the majority, “they are an integral part of the Palestinian people. Orthodox, Catholics, Armenians, Assyrians, Lutherans, Anglicans, Copts, Melkites, Protestants and others are all part of the rich mosaic of this free, sovereign, democratic and pluralistic Palestine we aspire to have and as established in our declaration of independence and draft constitution.”

Christian populations are thought to be dwindling or at least growing more slowly than their Muslim compatriots in much of the Middle East, largely due to emigration as they leave for better opportunities and to join families abroad. Some feel uncomfortable amid growing Muslim majorities that they see as becoming more outwardly pious and politically Islamist over the decades.

Abbas referred to the impending visit of Pope Francis, scheduled for a whirlwind tour in March, and expressed hope that the pontiff would spread “the message of justice and peace for the Palestinians.”

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