JERUSALEM – Palestinian Christians expressed concern over an agreement the Vatican plans to sign with Israel regarding church property in occupied East Jerusalem, the National Coalition of Christian Organizations said in a letter sent to the Papal office at the Vatican.
“We, representatives of the Christian-related organizations in Palestine, have learned of the possible agreement to be signed between the Holy See and the State of Israel with respect to legal and financial issues, following the Fundamental Agreement of 1993,” said the letter dated June 10.
“We write you today with a serious concern regarding this prospect,” added the letter.
The letter said that the Christian community in the Palestinian Territory was mainly concerned by the timing of the agreement and its political character.
“Israel is doing all in its capacity to exclusively control the occupied city of Jerusalem and jeopardize any possibility of a lasting peace settlement,” said the letter.
It charged that Israel was building more illegal settlements around and within occupied East Jerusalem, demolishing Jerusalem houses, forcing the indigenous Palestinians out of the city through residency revocations and limitation on family unification, putting institutions at the mercy of its bureaucracy through granting privileges and taking taxes, closing Jerusalem to Christians from Bethlehem, Gaza, and other cities and Arab countries, systematically working to put all of Jerusalem under its full control and thus transforming the multi-religious, multi-cultural identity of this historic divine city into an exclusively Jewish city, an exclusive capital for Israel, and demanding recognition as a Jewish state as an instrument of legitimizing its exclusion of “the other.”
The letter said that “at a time of such aggressive injustice and continuous loss, we fear that the agreement between the Holy See and Israel will be used as another pillar along the same path.”
The Palestinian Christians said that “we see that this new agreement is not merely a fiscal or technical agreement. It has also a political character and it could have an impact on the alteration of the ‘human and historic’ status of the city.”
“The point is: the agreement covers Israel (within the pre-1967 borders) and Arab East Jerusalem that is Occupied Territory, according to the international law and the constant standing position of the Holy See,” explained the letter.
“If East Jerusalem goes unmentioned in the agreement, this will serve as an implicit acknowledgment of its annexation by Israel: a dangerous precedent that will be understood as a change in the constant position of the Holy See and would pose a serious setback with respect to political and human rights for all Palestinians, both Christians and non-Christians,” said the letter.
The National Coalition of Christian Organizations, a coalition of around 40 groups, urged the authorities at the Vatican “to do your best to put on hold the coming agreement until its wording is clearly differentiating between Israel proper and occupied territories under Israeli administration and control such as and in particular East Jerusalem.”