Saudi king reassures Palestinians on east Jerusalem

RIYADH – Saudi King Salman on Wednesday pledged the kingdom’s support for east Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state during talks with president Mahmud Abbas.

The monarch stressed “the legitimate right of the Palestinian people in establishing their independent state with east Jerusalem as its capital,” the SPA official news agency reported. The visit comes after US President Donald Trump earlier this month recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, sparking angry reactions by the Palestinians and Arabs.

On Monday, Abbas reiterated his opposition to any US role as broker between the two sides, saying “whoever allows the United States to return as a partner or mediator in the peace process is crazy”.

Abbas has sent delegations to China and Russia to ask them to take a greater role in the peace process with Israel, an official said on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki on Wednesday accused Washington of “threatening” member countries of the UN General Assembly ahead of a vote on rejecting the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Malki said American officials were “committing another mistake when they have distributed this famous letter trying to threaten countries, (and) threaten their sovereign decision to choose how to vote.”

He spoke at a press conference with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in Istanbul, shortly before both men left for New York.

On Tuesday, Nikki Haley, Washington’s UN envoy, warned countries that she would report back to President Donald Trump with the names of those who supported a draft resolution rejecting the US recognition.

The UN General Assembly will hold an emergency session on Thursday to vote on the proposed measure, after the US vetoed a similar resolution for the Security Council.

“This is really a new definition of world order in politics and it seems that the American administration… are putting their stamp on a new political reality that many countries will reject,” Malki said.

Turkey and Yemen requested the urgent meeting on behalf of the Arab group of countries and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

The two countries circulated a draft resolution on Tuesday that mirrors the vetoed measure, reaffirming that any decision on the status of Jerusalem has no legal effect and must be rescinded.

Malki said the UN session would show “how many countries will opt to vote with their conscience.”

“They will vote for justice and they will vote in favour of that resolution that was presented by both Yemen and Turkey on behalf of the Arab group and OIC,” he said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sought to lead Islamic condemnation of Trump’s Jerusalem plan, calling a summit of the leaders of Muslim nations last week in Istanbul, who urged the world to recognise East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.

East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel after it seized control of the area in the 1967 war, in a move never recognised by the international community.

Cavusoglu said his country expected “strong support” for the Palestinian Authority in the UN General Assembly. “Everyone with a conscience … is against this decision that usurped Palestine’s rights,” he said.

The foreign minister said any honourable country would not bow to US pressure, urging Washington to reverse its mistake.

“God willing, I believe we will obtain a good result tomorrow (Thursday)”, he added.

Moreover, the Catholic church’s top official in Jerusalem on Wednesday criticised Donald Trump’s controversial recognition of the city as Israel’s capital, saying it damaged Christmas celebrations and led to hundreds cancelling trips.

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, said “dozens” of groups had pulled out of planned visits after being scared off by the announcement and subsequent clashes.

He added that the heads of the Christian churches in Jerusalem would find it difficult to accept an official request by US Vice President Mike Pence to visit the city’s holy Christian sites in January, calling for him to “listen more” to other Christians.

“Of course this created a tension around Jerusalem and this diverted attention from Christmas,” Pizzaballa said of Trump’s December 6 decision.

“After this there are some tensions in Jerusalem, Bethlehem also. This scared many people, so we’ve had less people than expected.”

He stressed, though, that they would continue with planned Christmas celebrations.

Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem, breaking with decades of US policy on one of the most complicated issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has been met with near-daily protests across the Palestinian territories.

Pizzaballa, the most senior Roman Catholic official in the Middle East, stressed the church was opposed to “unilateral” decisions on the future of Jerusalem.

Pence was supposed to visit Jerusalem this week, but it was delayed until January.

Pence’s team cited key votes on US tax reform as the cause of the delay.

Christian leaders across the Middle East had said they were no longer willing to meet with Pence, an evangelical Christian, following Trump’s decision.

Asked whether Pence could visit the Holy Sepulchre, believed to be the site of Jesus’s crucifixion, and other Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, Pizzaballa said it would be a “problem” if he wanted to come on an official visit.

“We cannot say no to pilgrims, we are religious, we cannot say no to someone, even if he is the bigger sinner in the world,” he said.

But if Pence requests an official visit, “sometimes we cannot neglect the political consequences or political aspects,” he said without elaborating.

He said Pence should “listen more. No one has a monopoly on Jesus, not even the Evangelicals.”

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