Update: Mideast Christian leaders to Trump: Jerusalem move could have dire results

IMAGE: CNS photo/Debbie Hill

By Judith Sudilovsky

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.

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, 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.

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.

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Contributing to this story was Doreen Abi
Raad in Beirut.

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Follow Sudilovsky on Twitter: @JSudireports.

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