The Holy Land made the news this past week, but with different emphases. Church leaders are supporting policies opposed to the new administration in the United States.
President Donald Trump made an election promise to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Canadians will remember that Joe Clark made a similar promise, but never followed through.
Likewise, both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush pledged to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem but backed down because of its wider implications for peace in the Middle East.
Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would put an end to the proposed two-state solution. Palestinians also want to claim Jerusalem as their future capital.
The move is opposed by Arab nations and some commentators suggest it would become a recruitment tool for ISIS. This would fuel the terrorism that Trump says he will eliminate “from the face of the earth.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordanian King Abdullah II both repeated their opposition. Both have warned of renewed violence if the move happens.
Church leaders have long opposed recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Archbishop Bernardito Auza told the UN General Assembly in November that the Holy See views the holy city of Jerusalem “as the spiritual patrimony of the three monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.” The vast majority of Christians in the region are Palestinians.
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 Jerusalem.
In their recent visit in support of Catholics in the occupied territory of Palestine, 12 North American and European bishops noted that many people in the Holy Land have spent their entire lives under occupation, with its polarizing social segregation. In a statement on the CCCB website, they said: “For 50 years the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza have languished under occupation, violating the human dignity of both Palestinians and Israelis. This is a scandal to which we must never become accustomed.”
They call on countries “to oppose the construction of settlements” by Israel in Palestinian land, such as in Hebron and East Jerusalem.
They quoted the Holy See’s position that "if Israel and Palestine do not agree to exist side-by-side, reconciled and sovereign within mutually agreed and internationally recognized borders, peace will remain a distant dream and security an illusion."
One of the Vatican’s earliest mention of the Palestinians’ right to a homeland came in a communiqué issued when St. John Paul II held his first meeting with Palestine Liberation Organization chair Yasser Arafat in 1982.
The pope expressed his hope to Arafat that “a just and lasting solution to the Middle East conflict would be reached as quickly as possible, a solution which . . . would lead to the recognition of the right of all peoples, and in particular the Palestinian people, to possess a land of their own, and that of the Israeli people to ensure their own security.”
Much water has flowed under the bridge since Israel became a nation. Peace is longed for, on both sides, but Israel and the Palestinians continue to suffer from the absence of peace.
Recognizing Jerusalem as a state capital is the wrong path to take. So are new settlements. How long will it take for a change of heart?