VATICAN CITY >> The Vatican stressed the sacred nature of Jerusalem on Saturday as the Palestinian leader warned that prospects for peace could suffer if the incoming Trump administration goes ahead with plans to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The developments came as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with Pope Francis and inaugurated the Palestinian embassy to the Holy See.
Abbas said he had only heard through news reports of the proposal by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump to move the embassy to Jerusalem.
The Palestinians strongly oppose the embassy 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.
“We hope that this news is not true, because it is not encouraging and will disrupt and hinder the peace process,” he said. He urged Trump to open a dialogue with both Israelis and Palestinians.
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.
In Paris on Sunday, the French government is hosting a Mideast peace conference attended by dozens of foreign ministers to show Trump’s administration that most of the world wants a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians and is fed up with decades of conflict.
The Vatican has long sought an internationally guaranteed status for Jerusalem that safeguards its sacred character. In its communique after the Abbas meeting, the Holy See didn’t refer to Jerusalem by name but said during the talks “emphasis was placed on the importance of safeguarding the sanctity of the holy places for believers of all three of the Abrahamic religions.”
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, comes after recent accords in which the Vatican formally recognized the “State of Palestine.”
“This embassy is a place of pride for us and we hope all of the countries of the world will recognize the state of Palestine, because this recognition will bring us closer to the peace process,” he said.
Abbas had initially accepted an invitation to be in Paris on Sunday, but French officials say that visit has been postponed.