Vatican envoy: Unilateral US moves on Jerusalem threaten peace, harm Christmas

Archbishop says exclusive claims to city are ‘contrary to the city’s own logic’

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, stands at the end of the annual pre-Christmas press conference at the Latin Patriarchate headquarters in the old city of Jerusalem on December 20, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / GALI TIBBON)
Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, stands at the end of the annual pre-Christmas press conference at the Latin Patriarchate headquarters in the old city of Jerusalem on December 20, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / GALI TIBBON)

The top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land said the status of Jerusalem should not be altered by “unilateral decisions,” amid protests over the US recognition of the contested city as Israel’s capital.

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa said in a statement Wednesday that “unilateral decisions will not bring peace, but rather will distance it. Jerusalem is a treasure of all humanity. Any exclusive claim — be it political or religious — is contrary to the city’s own logic.”

He also said US President Donald Trump’s controversial recognition of the city as Israel’s capital had damaged Christmas celebrations and led to hundreds cancelling trips.

Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, said “dozens” of groups had pulled out of planned visits after being scared off by the US president’s December 6 announcement and subsequent clashes.

He added that the heads of the Christian churches in Jerusalem would find it difficult to accept an official request by US Vice President Mike Pence to visit the city’s holy Christian sites in January, calling for him to “listen more” to other Christians.

“Of course this created a tension around Jerusalem and this diverted attention from Christmas,” Pizzaballa said of Trump’s decision. “After this there are some tensions in Jerusalem, Bethlehem also. This scared many people, so we’ve had less people than expected.”

He stressed, though, that they would continue with planned Christmas celebrations.

Trump’s declaration departed from decades of US policy that the fate of Jerusalem should be decided through negotiations.

The move was hailed by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum. Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War and sees the whole of Jerusalem as its undivided capital, while the Palestinians view East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

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