Middle East Christian leaders in open letter to Trump: Peace is impossible unless Jerusalem is for all

Palestinians burns a U.S. flag during clashes with Israeli troops near the West Bank city of Ramallah on Dec. 7. (CNS/Mohamad Torokman, Reuters)

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- In an open letter to U.S. President Donald Trump, Christian leaders in Jerusalem said U.S. recognition of the city as the capital of Israel could have dire regional consequences.

"We have been following, with concern, the reports about the possibility of changing how the United States understands and deals with the status of Jerusalem. We are certain that such steps will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us farther from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive division," the Christian leaders said, just hours before Trump announced the U.S. was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital and relocating the U.S. embassy.

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They appealed to Trump to take their viewpoint into consideration, as did the leaders who met at Camp David in July 2000 to decide the status of Jerusalem. The Christian leaders said their "solemn advice and plea" for the president was to continue recognizing the international status of Jerusalem.

"We ask you, Mr. President, to help us all walk toward more love and a definitive peace, which cannot be reached without Jerusalem being for all," they said Dec. 6.

"Any sudden changes would cause irreparable harm. We are confident that, with strong support from our friends, Israelis and Palestinians can work toward negotiating a sustainable and just peace, benefiting all who long for the Holy City of Jerusalem to fulfill its destiny."

The Christian leaders said their "solemn advice and plea" for the president was to continue recognizing the international status of Jerusalem.

The Christian leaders, who include Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs as well as the Franciscan custos of the Holy Land, said Jerusalem could be "shared and fully enjoyed" once a political process helped "liberate the hearts of all people that live within it from the conditions of conflict and destructiveness that they are experiencing."

With Christmas approaching they asked that Jerusalem "not be deprived" of peace; they wished Trump a Merry Christmas and asked that he help them "listen to the song of the angels."

"As the Christian leaders of Jerusalem, we invite you to walk with us in hope as we build a just, inclusive peace for all the peoples of this unique and Holy City," they said.

In 1967, Israel annexed East Jerusalem, which had been under Jordanian control since 1948. In 1980 Israel declared a united Jerusalem as its capital. Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the future capital of an independent Palestine.

Earlier Dec. 6, Pope Francis expressed concern that a U.S. move recognizing Jerusalem as the capital would further destabilize the Middle East.

The internationally unsettled status of Jerusalem and its central importance to Jews, Muslims and Christians explains why, while recognizing the state of Israel, no nation has its embassy in the holy city. Since the early 1990s, the Vatican has called for a special status for the city. It has insisted the political question of the city's status must be the result of negotiation.

Although the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did not comment on Trump's announcement, earlier this year, Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, urged U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to keep the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.

"Relocating the embassy to Jerusalem is tantamount to recognizing Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel," which would destabilize the region, Bishop Cantu said in the letter dated Feb. 1.

The bishops' former adviser on Mideast issues, Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, said declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel "is a serious step, signaling diplomatic approval for Israel's seizure of the city by force and eroding what had been united international opposition to the idea that the Holy City could be claimed through Israel's military victory."

Since the early 1990s, the Vatican has called for a special status for the city. It has insisted the political question of the city's status must be the result of negotiation.

"In quiet acts of ethnic cleansing, Palestinian Jerusalemites are denied residency because of extended absences or because they have married residents of the West Bank," he wrote in America magazine. "Their neighborhoods are rezoned for public uses; their homes are occupied by Jewish settlers and they have no legal recourse. Moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem means giving the seal of approval to 'facts on the ground' that despoil Palestinian Jerusalemites of their birthright."

In Jerusalem, Wadie Abunassar, chairman of media relations for the Christian leaders, said the status of Jerusalem is not only an issue for Israelis and Palestinians, but also for other Muslim countries as well. He noted that already a gathering of Arab foreign ministers has been organized for Dec. 11 as well as a meeting prepared by Turkey for Muslim countries.

"Jerusalem is a sensitive issue for all, so the Christian leaders, (following) the pope, are making an appeal to President Trump to be wise -- there is a need for wisdom ... especially in such an explosive situation," he said.

With violent demonstrations already in evidence even before any announcement had been made, Abunassar said more steps that produce confidence-building measures are needed rather than steps that "add oil to the flame."

Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic political party with an armed faction, called for more protests in the coming days, particularly Dec. 8, the Muslim day of prayer. The U.S. labels Hamas a terrorist organization.

In Lebanon, Abdul Latif Derian, grand mufti of Lebanon's Sunni Muslims, called on Arab Islamic leaders to counter the U.S. embassy's relocation to preserve the Arab identity of Jerusalem. The mufti is an important figure for Sunni Muslims, not just locally but regionally. Most of the Palestinian population in the region is Sunni Muslim.

"The transfer of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and the recognition of the Holy City as the capital of Israel is a blatant challenge and provocation to the feelings of Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims," the mufti said in a statement Dec. 6. "This step would turn the region into a flame of conflicts that will inevitably lead to disastrous consequences and would adversely affect the region and the international community. This will have serious repercussions on the Arab and Islamic region."

"The recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is unacceptable and represents a step toward the elimination of the Palestinian cause, which will not be allowed by Arabs and Muslims," the mufti said, calling to confront the Israeli enemy in various ways.

"Confrontation is a legitimate right aiming to defend the occupied land of Palestine," he said.

Many Israelis celebrated the move; U.S. Jewish groups were split in their reaction.

William Bannon
1 week 1 day ago

Is it just me imagining or did Jordan not lose Jerusalem to Israel by attacking them in the six day war in 1967 at the behest of Egypt? Previously Israel had complained to the UN about Jordan ransacking multiple Jewish libraries and synagogues in East Jerusalem but the UN did nothing. Does the Pope know this history....or is he trying for the Nobel Peace Prize which would exclude agreeing against Palestinians?

Emmett Burke
1 week 1 day ago

It was Israel that launched a preemptive strike against Jordan. And it was Israel that created the sabre rattling. Israel would not exist if it were not for US support and billions of dollars each year in support. Yet we cannot move Israel to make any sort of peace. What do we get out of this support of such a regime?

William Bannon
1 week 1 day ago

You are correct on Jordan technically but not really....to the History Channel's version:
" The U.N. peacekeepers left on May 19, and three days later Egypt closed the Strait of Tiran to Israeli shipping. On May 30, Jordan signed a mutual-defense treaty with Egypt and Syria, and other Arab states, including Iraq, Kuwait, and Algeria, sent troop contingents to join the Arab coalition against Israel.

With every sign of a pan-Arab attack in the works, Israel’s government on June 4 authorized its armed forces to launch a surprise preemptive strike. On June 5, the Six-Day War began with an Israeli assault against Arab air power. In a brilliant attack, the Israeli air force caught the formidable Egyptian air force on the ground and largely destroyed the Arabs’ most powerful weapon. The Israeli air force then turned against the lesser air forces of Jordan, Syria, and Iraq, and by the end of the day had decisively won air superiority."

William Bannon
1 week ago

Even on preemption, different sites still...see Jordan attacking first:

from Six Day War dot org....
"Buoyed by false reports of Egyptian success, Jordan initiated offensive actions against Israel from the eastern portion of Jerusalem and from lands it occupied west of the Jordan river (the West Bank). Israeli forces responded by attacking Jordanian military positions. After a three days of fierce fighting, especially in and around Jerusalem, Israeli forces defeated the Jordanians and gained control of all of Jerusalem as well as the West Bank, the historical heartland of the Jewish people known to Israelis as Judea and Samaria."

From Britannica dot com
" An eastern front was also opened on June 5 when Jordanian forces began shelling West Jerusalem—disregarding Israel’s warning to King Ḥussein to keep Jordan out of the fight—only to face a crushing Israeli counterattack. On June 7 Israeli forces drove Jordanian forces out of East Jerusalem..."

William Bannon
1 week ago

Even on preemption, different sites still...see Jordan attacking first:

from Six Day War dot org....
"Buoyed by false reports of Egyptian success, Jordan initiated offensive actions against Israel from the eastern portion of Jerusalem and from lands it occupied west of the Jordan river (the West Bank). Israeli forces responded by attacking Jordanian military positions. After a three days of fierce fighting, especially in and around Jerusalem, Israeli forces defeated the Jordanians and gained control of all of Jerusalem as well as the West Bank, the historical heartland of the Jewish people known to Israelis as Judea and Samaria."

From Britannica dot com
" An eastern front was also opened on June 5 when Jordanian forces began shelling West Jerusalem—disregarding Israel’s warning to King Ḥussein to keep Jordan out of the fight—only to face a crushing Israeli counterattack. On June 7 Israeli forces drove Jordanian forces out of East Jerusalem..."

Stuart Meisenzahl
1 week 1 day ago

"Right on Cue " the phrase "International City" becomes the new watch word/ moniker for thoughtful moderation, correct thinking , etc etc.
Even though the concept of an International City is purely political, there are no examples of where such a concept was successfully implemented for any reasonable period of time....Danzig, Trieste?
Politics is the art of the practical not the theoretical.....or worse yet the theological. Does anyone think that either the Palestinians or the Israeliis would accept International City status. Since it is never going to happen these suggestions of what "should happened" need to be recognized for what they are: Moral high ground preening
Again it is well to remember that the Vatican saw the 1947 UN Resolutions as a way of determining ownership and control of holy sites among contesting parties. Then the Vatican itself was a contesting party for such ownership /supervision!

E.Patrick Mosman
1 week ago

President Trump- said, "The old approach hasn’t worked", and “it would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result.”
Einstein said- "insanity- doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome."
Obviously President Trump has imposed Einstein's definition of insanity on the perpetual "Peace Talks" and opted for
a new direction.

E.Patrick Mosman
1 week ago

"Peace is impossible unless Jerusalem is for all" Why single out Jerusalem as the touchstone for Peace when Christians, Jews and non-Muslms should be able to live in peace and practice their religions in all Muslim dominated countries. How about building Christian churches and Jewish Temples in Mecca and Medina to start?

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