Pope Francis called for the "status quo" to be respected with regard to locating foreign embassies to Israel in Jerusalem. The pontiff’s remarks came after President Donald Trump indicated that the American embassy to Israel will be relocated from the port city of Tel Aviv to the contested city of Jerusalem. "I cannot silence my deep concern over the situation that has emerged in recent days," the Pope said. "I appeal strongly for all to respect the city's status quo, in accordance with the relevant UN resolutions," said the Pope in his “heartfelt” appeal.
While there are currently no embassies resident in Jerusalem, several countries have reportedly expressed an interest in locating their diplomatic representations there. On Wednesday, President Rodrigo Duterte of The Philippines was reported to have signaled his intent to locate his country’s embassy there.
Over 80 countries operate Consulates to Jerusalem, but generally do not regard them as diplomatic missions to Israel or Palestinian Authority, but as diplomatic missions to Jerusalem as a corpus separatum -- a separate body. Most of the countries with consulates in Jerusalem have separate embassies in Tel Aviv that are accredited to the State of Israel. However, a small number of countries do operate diplomatic missions for Israel or the Palestinian Authority in Jerusalem. Among them are the United States, France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the Vatican State (Holy See).
Both Israel and the Palestinians Authority claim Jerusalem as their capital, while the city's status is marked as a final issue to be decided in a peace agreement. It is regarded by Jews as the center of the Jewish religion and where King David built a city and King Solomon built his temple. The government of Israel regards the city as the eternal and undivided capital of Israel, which was brought under the authority of the Jewish State during the Six Day War in the 1960s. Christians have a sentimental tie to the city because it was there that Jesus Christ was crucified, buried, and resurrected. Muslims’ claim came much later. Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Koran and it was in the century after Mohammed’s death that a mosque was built on the Temple Mount. Mecca, the pilgrim city of Saudi Arabia, is the holiest site in Islam.
East Jerusalem is predominantly Christian and Muslim. It is also home to Haram el Sharif -- a Muslim holy site, as well as Christian churches and more than 300,000 non-Jewish Israelis who make up nearly 40 percent of Jerusalem's population. The Palestinian Authority wants to retain control over that part of Jerusalem in a future final peace agreement, while accusing Israel of building settlements and buying land in East Jerusalem to shut out non-Jews.
During his weekly address, Pope Francis referred to the Holy Land as the "land par excellence of dialogue between God and mankind." He said, "The primary condition of that dialogue is reciprocal respect and a commitment to strengthening that respect, for the sake of recognising the rights of all people, wherever they happen to be."
Muslim opinion worldwide is deadset against moving the American embassy to Jerusalem. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlet Cavusoglu said the "whole world is against" a move, calling it a "grave mistake" that would bring "chaos and instability." He was seconded by Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan.
In the United Kingdom, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the country has no plans to move its embassy to the city.
At his general audience on December 6, Pope Francis said that Jerusalem is a “unique city” that is considered holy for Jews, Christians and Muslims. Referring to Jerusalem, which has “a special vocation for peace,” the Pope said, “I ask the Lord that this identity be preserved and reinforced for the benefit of the Holy Land, the Middle East, and the entire world and that wisdom and prudence prevail to avoid adding new elements of tension in a global panorama already convulsed and marked by so many cruel conflicts.”
Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.