ROME – Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warned on Saturday that if incoming US president Donald Trump follows through on his plans to move his country’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, it would “certainly not be a help” to the stalled peace process.
Abbas made the remark during a brief address to reporters in Rome, following a 23-minute audience with Pope Francis, the third meeting between the two men.
Abbas also officially opened the small PA embassy to the Vatican just outside its walls, a year and a half after the Vatican recognized the Palestinian state.
The embassy is housed in a building owned by the Vatican, which began renting it to the PA last year.
In a statement, the Vatican said their conversation “turned to the peace process in the Middle East, and hope was expressed that direct negotiations between the parties will be resumed to bring an end to the violence that causes unacceptable suffering to civilian populations, and to find a just and lasting solution.”
The Vatican statement concluded: “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.”
In his own statement, Abbas said the conversation also addressed the situation of Jerusalem, which Abbas referred to as “the capital of the State of Palestine.” He said he and Francis “reaffirmed the importance of the city for the three monotheistic religions, and our support for Jerusalem being an open city.”
Abbas criticized Israel for what he called “policies aimed at turning Jerusalem into an exclusive Jewish-Israeli city, demolishing Palestinian homes, expanding illegal settlements, building an illegal ‘Annexation Wall,’ dividing families and isolating our occupied capital from the rest of Palestine.”
The prospect of the US moving its embassy to Jerusalem was not mentioned in official statements about the meeting, but in remarks to reporters, Abbas said: “We are waiting to see what will happen. If this decision to transfer the embassy to Jerusalem is followed through, it will certainly not help the peace process. We hope it does not happen.”
In an interview published by the French newspaper Le Figaro on Saturday, Abbas said: “Not only would this move deprive the US of all legitimacy in playing a role in conflict resolution, it would also destroy hopes for a twostate solution.”
Abbas also told Le Figaro that the PA might consider “un-recognizing” Israel if the move takes place.
On Sunday, France will hold a round of talks involving at least 70 countries in an attempt to restart the peace process and to build consensus for a two-state solution.
Abbas will fly from Rome to Paris to meet with French President François Hollande ahead of the Paris talks, but will not formally participate in the discussions.
Israel will also be on the sidelines in Paris. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the conference was “rigged” and that it “pushes the peace process backwards.”
But a US delegation will be on hand, headed by Secretary of State John Kerry, in what will be his last major foreign trip before stepping down when Trump is inaugurated on Friday.
The Vatican is among the countries backing a two-state solution. Issa Kassissieh, the PA’s first ambassador to the Vatican, said the PA is thankful for the support of Francis and the Vatican.
“We will work together for the implementation of a bilateral agreement,” Kassissieh said in a statement. “Our relations with the Holy See are a priority in our foreign policy, and just as we raised our flags together in the United Nations, we hope that we will be able to take other steps that bring us closer to a just and lasting peace in Jerusalem and the rest of the State of Palestine.”
Ties between the Vatican and the PA have strengthened in recent years. In 2012, a year before Francis’s election as pontiff, the Vatican went on record as a backer of the United Nations’ decision to grant the Palestinian Authority the status of “non-member observer state” over objections from Israel.
In 2014, Francis’s itinerary for his visit to the Holy Land used the phrase “State of Palestine,” and during the trip the pope said the Palestinians had the right to a “sovereign and independent” homeland.
A year later, the Vatican began referring to the PA as a sovereign state in its communications, formally opening up diplomatic ties with its government.
And last month, Francis used his Christmas address to applaud Israelis and Palestinians seeking to “write a new page of history, where hate and revenge give way to the will to build together a future of mutual understanding and harmony.”
Francis has also expressed personal admiration for Abbas, referring to him as an “angel of peace” during a canonization ceremony of two Palestinian nuns at the Vatican in 2015.