Vatican expresses concern over potential West Bank annexation

Old City Jerusalem Credit Aleksandar Todorovic Shutterstock CNA Old City Jerusalem. | Aleksandar Todorovic / Shutterstock.

As Israel's new government considers annexing parts of the West Bank, the Palestine Liberation Organization's chief negotiator appealed to the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States over the phone.

Saeb Erekat, the PLO leader who negotiated the Oslo Accords, called Archbishop Paul Gallagher to say that "the possibility of Israel applying its sovereignty unilaterally" in the Palestinian territories would be "further jeopardizing" to the peace process, according to the Holy See press office.

The news of the call came a day after the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared that the PLO and the Palestinian state would no longer be bound by the peace and security agreements with the Israeli and American governments, including the Oslo peace process, in response to talk that Israel would extend sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

In a statement released on May 20 following the telephone call, the Holy See reaffirmed its support of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, and respect for the borders internationally recognized before 1967.

"The Holy See is following the situation closely, and expresses concern about any future actions that could further compromise dialogue," the Vatican stated. 

The Holy See expressed hope that the Israelis and Palestinians will be able to directly negotiate an agreement with the help of the International Community that will lead to peace -- "so that peace may finally reign in the Holy Land, so beloved by Jews and Christians and Muslims."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in for his fourth term as the head of Israel's government in the Knesset on May 17. In his campaign, Netanyahu promised annexation of the West Bank, while Benny Gantz, Israel's defense minister and "alternate prime minister" in the new government, had campaigned against unilateral annexation.

The power-sharing deal between the Israeli leaders included the possibility of annexation this summer with the approval of the Israeli parliament and the Trump administration, according to Foreign Policy magazine.

Earlier this month, Catholic bishops, Orthodox patriarchs, and Protestant leaders in the Holy Land published a letter raising concerns that Israel's unilateral annexation plans "would bring about the loss of any remaining hope for the success of the peace process."

"An array of plans for Israel to unilaterally annex West Bank land, backed mainly by right-wing factions, raises serious and catastrophic questions about the feasibility of any peaceful agreement to end the decades' long conflict, one that continues to cost many innocent lives as part of a vicious cycle of human tragedy and injustice," the Council of Patriarchs and Heads of the Holy Land Churches wrote May 7. 

The letter -- signed by Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate; Archbishop Mosa El-Hage, Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate; Archbishop Yaser Al-Ayash, Greek-Melkite-Catholic Patriarchate; Fr. Ephram Samaan, Syrian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate; Fr. Francesco Patton of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land; and eight other Christian leaders -- called on the PLO and world leaders to respond.

The Church leaders asked "the Palestinian Liberation Organization, as the sole legitimate Representative of the Palestinian people, to resolve its internal disputes-as well as any conflicts with other factions that are not under its umbrella-in order to present a unified front dedicated to achieving peace and the building of a viable State that is founded upon pluralism and democratic values."

They also called upon the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations to respond to the unilateral annexation plans with "a time delimited and phased Peace Initiative in line with International Law and United Nations resolutions on the matter, in order to guarantee a comprehensive, just, and long-lasting peace in this part of the world that is considered Holy by the three Abrahamic Faiths."

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