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Palestinian President Opens Embassy in Vatican | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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President Abbas during the opening of the embassy (AFP)

Ramallah, London – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that more countries of the world recognizing Palestine will bring the peace process closer.

Speaking at the official opening of the Palestinian Embassy in Vatican, Abbas said that the embassy is a place of pride for Palestinians all over the world.

He said: “This embassy is a place of pride for us and we hope that all of the countries of the world recognize the State of Palestine, because this recognition will bring us closer to the peace process.”

The Palestinian President also had an audience with Pope Francis for about 20 minutes, with discussions on how peace can be achieved. The two exchanged gifts, where Abbas presented Pope Francis with gifts recalling Christianity’s birthplace in the Holy Land, including a stone from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and documentation about the ongoing restoration of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Following the meeting, the Vatican issued a statement expressing its hope that: “negotiations between the Parties may be resumed to bring an end to the violence that causes unacceptable suffering to civilian populations, and to find a just and lasting solution.”

“To this end, 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,” added the statement.

This is the third meeting between the Pope and Abbas following the Pope’s visit to Palestine and Israel in 2014 and Abbas’ visit to Vatican in 2015.

After 2015, Vatican City and the Palestinian authorities began new relations which led to the opening of the embassy in Vatican.

Vatican City officially recognized Palestine as a sovereign state in 2016 and the pope previously referred to Abbas as an “angel of peace” during a May 2015 visit to Italy’s capital, Rome, which angered Israeli authorities.

During the opening, and when asked about the possible transfer of U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, Abbas told reporters on Saturday that if Trump went ahead with plans to move the embassy, it would hinder the peace process.

“We are waiting to see if it happens. If it does, it will not help peace and we hope it does not happen,” he said.

Trump had promised to transfer the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem after his inauguration on January 20. This promise indicates a shift in the U.S. policy which used to consider Jerusalem an occupied city.

The Palestinian President warned that if the idea went ahead it will not help efforts towards finding peace. “We hope this news is not true, because it is not encouraging and will disrupt and hinder the peace process,” he stressed.

Abbas added: “We call on President Trump, when he reaches the White House, to open a dialogue for peace between us and the Israelis and we are ready for this dialogue on the basis of international legitimacy.”

If the embassy transfer takes place, “there would be several options for us, and we would discuss them with Arab countries,” Abbas said.

“Reversing our recognition of the State of Israel is one of them. But we hope that it doesn’t reach that point, and that, on the contrary, we will be able to work with the next American administration,” he added.

Earlier, Abbas penned a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin asking him to talk the United States out of moving its embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) secretary-general Saeb Erekat handed the letter over to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov who would pass it on to Putin.

On January 2, Abbas met in Ramallah with Palestinian pharma billionaire Adnan Mjalli and Jewish American hedge fund manager Daniel Arbess, who is considered to be close to Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is expected to take up a senior White House role in the new administration.

Arbess informed Abbas that Trump is serious about moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Palestinians are looking forward for an effective Russian role, which could be a substitute for the American role in the peace process, especially after the Paris convention.

Over 70 states met on Sunday in France during the Middle East Peace Conference in Paris to reiterate that the only solution to end the conflict is the recognition of two states.

Abbas said that Sunday’s Paris convention “stands out as the final likelihood for implementing” the two-state answer.

“We, as Palestinians, are saying no more,” Abbas said in an interview with the French Daily Le Figaro on Friday.

“After 70 years of dispersion and 50 years of occupation, 2017 should be the year of justice, peace and liberty for our people,” he added.

Abbas will meet with French President François Hollande ahead of the Paris talks, but will not formally participate in the discussions.