Palestinian Authority set to open embassy in Vatican

President Mahmoud Abbas meets Pope Francis for the opening of the embassy, one day before Paris peace conference.

    The Vatican, which enjoys close relations with Israel, has steadily supported the creation of a Palestinian state [AP]
    The Vatican, which enjoys close relations with Israel, has steadily supported the creation of a Palestinian state [AP]

    The Palestinian Authority is set to open an embassy in Vatican City, one day before representatives from 70 countries gather in the French capital for an Israeli-Palestinian peace conference.

    Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is meeting Pope Francis for the embassy's inauguration on Saturday, before heading to Rome to meet Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni.

    Issa Kassissieh, Palestine's ambassador to the Holy See, called the move "a significant achievement for the Palestinian people," and said the Pope had taken "a moral, legal and political stand through recognising the state of Palestine along the pre-1967 borders".

    The Vatican, which enjoys close relations with Israel, has steadily supported the creation of a Palestinian state.

    The Palestinian Authority wants an independent state in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza - areas Israel occupied in violation of international law in a 1967 war.

    Abbas has said Sunday's Paris conference "may be the last chance for implementing" the two-state solution.

    Israel, which regards the United States as the chief broker in the Middle East, has failed to comment on whether it will attend the meeting, arguing that only direct negotiations with the Palestinians can lead to peace.

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    The Paris conference comes amid increasing concern from Palestinians over US president-elect Donald Trump's unwavering support for Israel.

    Trump has repeatedly said he plans to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and last month chose David Friedman, a right-wing lawyer, as his ambassador to Israel.

    Abbas told reporters on Saturday that if Trump went ahead with plans to move the embassy, it would hurt 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."

    The conference also takes place less than a month after Israel "reduced" ties with several countries that supported a UN resolution demanding an end to settlement building.

    Israel has approved tens of thousands of new settler homes in the occupied West Bank in recent years. 

    According to the Israeli rights group B'Tselem, more than half-a-million Israelis live in Jewish-only settlements throughout the West Bank, including in enclaves in occupied East Jerusalem.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies


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