Pope Francis received the President of the State of Israel in the Vatican Thursday to discuss Israeli-Palestinian relations as well as the “Jerusalem question,” in a meeting described as cordial and positive.
According to a Vatican press release, the two leaders discussed the resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians “so as to reach an accord respecting the legitimate aspirations of both peoples” as well as “the Jerusalem question,” in its religious and human dimension for Jews, Christians and Muslims.
The Jerusalem question entails “the importance of safeguarding its identity and vocation as City of Peace,” the communiqué stated.
Last December, after President Donald Trump announced his decision to move the U.S. embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as well as formally recognizing the Holy City as the capital of the Israeli state, Pope Francis appealed for respect for the “status quo” in the Holy City.
“My thoughts now turn to Jerusalem,” the Pope said in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall after his weekly General Audience. “I cannot remain silent about my deep concern for the situation that has been created in the last days.”
“At the same time, I would like to make a heartfelt appeal for everyone’s commitment to respect the city’s status quo, in conformity with the pertinent United Nations Resolutions,” he said.
On the same day, the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano published an article titled “Trump Inflames the Middle East,” saying that the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel was igniting a powder keg in the region.
The article warned of an increased “risk of terrorism in the region” as well as “mounting fears of possible demonstrations of protest and unrest.” The announcement has given rise to “profound perplexity” even within the Trump administration, the Vatican daily declared.
Thursday’s meeting between Pope Francis and President Rivlin took place a month before the twenty-fifth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the State of Israel. On December 30, 1993 the two parties signed the Fundamental Agreement Between the Holy See and the State of Israel and the following year the Vatican sent an Apostolic Nuncio to Israel while Israel established its Israeli embassy in Rome.
In 2015, Pope Francis asserted the rights of the State of Israel, calling attacks on Israel and its right to exist “anti-Semitism.”
“To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism,” Francis said in an audience with delegates from the World Jewish Congress (WJC). “There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome