New embassy a sign of pope's love for Palestine, President Abbas says


By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas thanked
Pope Francis for his support of the country’s new embassy to the Holy See.

“This is a sign that the pope loves the Palestinian
people and loves peace,” Abbas told the pope Jan. 14 before heading to the
inauguration of the Palestinian embassy to the Holy See in Rome.

The pope welcomed Abbas with open arms, embracing the
president and saying, “It is a pleasure to welcome you here.”

“I am also happy to be here,” Abbas replied.

The Vatican said the two leaders spoke privately of the
contribution of Catholics in Palestine and their “promotion of human dignity and
assistance for those most in need, especially in the fields of education,
health and aid.”

pope and Abbas also discussed the peace process and expressed hope that “direct
negotiations between the parties may be resumed to bring an end to the
violence” and to find “a just and lasting solution.”

this end, it is hoped that — with the support of the international community
— measures can be taken that favor mutual trust and contribute to creating a
climate that permits courageous decisions to be made in favor of peace,”
the Vatican said.

protection of holy sites “for believers of all three of the Abrahamic
religions” was also discussed, the statement said.

the pope and president spent more than 20 minutes speaking in private, Abbas
introduced Pope Francis to the Palestinian officials traveling with him.

One member of the delegation joked with the pope about the
pope’s favorite soccer team, San Lorenzo, before giving Pope Francis a soccer
jersey with the colors of the Palestinian flag.

Abbas presented the pope with five gifts: a Byzantine-style
icon of Jesus; a stone from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the
site of Jesus’ crucifixion; documentation from the Presidential Committee for
the Restoration of the Church of the Nativity; a book documenting Palestine’s diplomatic
relations with the Holy See; and a gold-plated icon of the Holy Family.

The pope gave the president a gold commemorative medallion
of the Holy Year of Mercy and Arabic translations of “Amoris
Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”) and “Laudato Si’, on Care for
Our Common Home.”

Taking his leave, Abbas warmly embraced the pope and went to
meet with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishop
Paul R. Gallagher, Vatican secretary for relations with states.

Issa Kassissieh, Palestinian ambassador to the Holy See,
said the new embassy was “a significant achievement for the Palestinian
people, considering that the pope has taken a moral, legal and political stand
through recognizing the state of Palestine.”

In an interview Jan. 12 with Palestinian news agency, WAFA, Kassissieh
said the new embassy “marks the outcome” of improved relations
between Palestine and the Holy See after the signing in June 2015 of an agreement
that supports a two-state solution to the ongoing conflict in the Holy Land.

Abbas’ visit comes on the heels of an international peace
conference in Paris Jan. 15 aimed at restating the international community’s support
for the peace process.

However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced
the gathering as a “rigged conference” that seeks to adopt
anti-Israeli policies.

“This pushes peace backward. It’s not going to obligate
us. It’s a relic of the past. It’s a last gasp of the past before the future
sets in,” Netanyahu said Jan. 12 following a meeting with Norway’s foreign
minister, Borge Bende.

President-elect Donald Trump’s proposal to move the U.S.
embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is also a cause for concern for
the Palestinian government as both states claim the city as their rightful

The two-state solution would split the city and allow for Palestine
to claim East Jerusalem as their capital. Israel, however, claims the entire
city as its capital.

According to WAFA, Abbas wrote to Trump Jan. 9 and said the
move likely would have a “disastrous impact on the peace process, on the
two-state solution and on the stability and security of the entire

Following his meeting with Pope Francis, President Abbas
told journalists he hoped President-elect Trump would not move forward with the

“We are waiting to see if it happens. If it does it
will not help peace and we hope it does not happen,” Abbas said.

Despite the looming threats to the peace process, President
Abbas said he hoped that the example set by the Palestinians agreement with the
Vatican will allow European countries to follow suit in order to achieve peace.

“I met his Holiness and (thanked him that) the Holy See
has completely recognized Palestine as an independent state and I hope that
other states will follow the Vatican’s example and recognize the state of
Palestine,” Abbas said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.


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