'The rights of churches in Jerusalem are threatened'

Before UN meet with Lapid, Jordan’s king says Christianity ‘under fire’ in Jerusalem

Abdullah warns at UNGA against ‘undermining’ status quo; Erdogan issues mild criticism of ‘illegal settlements’; after severe row, Chilean president nods to Israeli security

Luke Tress is an editor and a reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Jordan's King Abdullah II addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, September 20, 2022 at the UN headquarters in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Jordan's King Abdullah II addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, September 20, 2022 at the UN headquarters in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

NEW YORK — Jordan’s King Abdullah II warned against “undermining” the status quo in his address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, ahead of a meeting with Israel’s Prime Minister Yair Lapid.

He said the future of Jerusalem was a cause for concern and that “Christianity in the holy city is under fire.”

Jordan sees itself as the custodian of Jerusalem’s Muslim and Christian holy sites, including the Temple Mount complex which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a focal point of tensions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Temple Mount is the holiest site for Jews and the mosque is the third-holiest site for Muslims. Jews are allowed to visit, but not pray at the site. The delicate arrangement, known as the status quo, has frayed in recent years, and Jews are visiting the site in record numbers and sometimes praying quietly.

“The future of Jerusalem is an urgent concern. The city is holy to billions of Muslims, Christians and Jews around the world. Undermining Jerusalem’s legal and historical status quo triggers global tensions and deepens religious divides,” Abdullah said at the UN.

“The holy city must not be a place for hatred and division and as custodians of Jerusalem’s Muslim and holy sites we are committed to protecting the historical and legal status quo and to their safety and future,” he said.

He also claimed Christians were “under fire” in Jerusalem. Israel has had some recent tensions with Christian leaders in the capital, including court and government disputes over church properties.

“As a Muslim leader, let me say clearly that we are committed to defending the rights, the precious heritage of the Christian people for our region. Nowhere is that more important than in Jerusalem. Today, Christianity in the holy city is under fire. The rights of churches in Jerusalem are threatened. This cannot continue,” Abdullah said.

Jews visit the Temple Mount, August 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

He called for support for Palestinian refugees and their descendants, and for a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as the shared capital.

“Peace continues to be elusive. Neither war nor diplomacy has held the answer to this historic tragedy. It is the people themselves, not politics and politicians, who will have to come together and push their leaders to resolve this,” he said. “What would our world look like now if the conflict had been settled long ago? If walls had never gone up and people had been allowed to build bridges of cooperation instead?”

Without “the injustices of occupation, how many generations of youth could have grown up in the optimism of peace and progress?”

Abdullah is set to meet with Lapid later on Tuesday. Ties between the two countries have been fraught and tensions have been high in the West Bank. Jordan is home to a large Palestinian population.

Several of the opening speakers at the gathering of world leaders addressed the conflict in passing.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the 77th session of the General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, September 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, opening the General Debate, condemned Israel’s military rule in the West Bank in his opening address to the General Assembly, the UN’s annual gathering of world leaders.

“In Israel and Palestine, cycles of violence under the occupation continue as prospects for peace based on a two-state solution grow ever more distant,” Guterres said.

The bulk of Guterres’s speech focused on the Ukraine war, global food crisis and climate change. He mentioned the Israeli-Palestinian situation alongside global conflicts including Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Iraq, Libya, Myanmar and Syria.

The Palestinian delegation to the UN said Tuesday that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas delivered Guterres a letter calling on the UN leader to ensure “the right to self-determination, independence, and return.”

Chile’s President Gabriel Boric, after a severe diplomatic dispute with Israel, nodded to Israel’s security in his address to the General Assembly.

Last week, Boric rebuffed Israel’s new ambassador to the country because he was angered by Israel killing a Palestinian during a gunfight in the West Bank. The dismissal at the last moment set off an uproar and threatened to cloud relations between the countries.

President of Chile Gabriel Boric Font addresses the 77th session of the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters in New York, September 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Boric is a harsh Israel critic and has created tensions over the issue with Chile’s Jewish community.

In his address to the General Assembly, Boric called on the world body to “not normalize ongoing violations of human rights of the Palestinian people, to uphold international law and the resolutions which this very assembly takes year after year.”

However, he then called on the UN to support “guaranteeing Israel’s legitimate right to live within safe and internationally recognized borders.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in his address called for an end to “illegal settlements,” in relatively mild criticism of Israel.

Israel and Turkey’s relations have warmed in the past year after a long period of frayed ties, and Erdogan and Lapid are set to meet while in New York, the first meeting between leaders of the countries in years.

Erdogan’s lengthy speech mentioned the Israeli-Palestinian conflict among other global crises, including Ukraine, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, September 20, 2022, at the UN headquarters in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

“We need to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once and for all through the establishment of a two-state solution,” Erdogan said.

“We have to preserve the historical and cultural identity of Jerusalem and we have to respect Haram al-Sharif,” he said, referring to the Temple Mount by its Arabic name. He delivered the speech in Turkish.

“We have to stop the illegal settlements in the occupied regions, establishing security for the lives and commodities of the Palestinians,” he said. “We have to establish a permanent and fair solution for the region with East Jerusalem becoming a capital.”

“A free and sovereign Palestinian state. There are no other solutions,” he said. “This is going to be for the best interests of the world, for the Palestinian people, for the Israeli people and the region.”

He also called for more international aid for the Palestinians and expressed concern about the Iranian nuclear program.

Qatar’s leader said his nation “stands in full solidarity with the brotherly Palestinian people in their aspiration to achieve justice.”

He said the UN “must compel Israel to end the occupation of Palestinian territories” and calls for a two-state solution.

Senegal in its speech spoke in favor of the “right of the Palestinian people to a viable state alongside Israel with recognized international borders.”

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