VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis, leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, used his Christmas message on Monday to call for a negotiated two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the wake of regional tensions stoked by President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to relocate the U.S. embassy.
“Let us pray that the will to resume dialogue may prevail between the parties and that a negotiated solution can finally be reached, one that would allow the peaceful coexistence of two states within mutually agreed and internationally recognized borders,” he said, referring to the Israelis and Palestinians.
“We see Jesus in the children of the Middle East who continue to suffer because of growing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians,” he said in his address, delivered from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica to tens of thousands of people.
It was the second time that the pope has spoken out publicly about Jerusalem since Trump’s decision on Dec. 6. On that day, Francis called for the city’s “status quo” to be respected, lest new tensions in the Middle East further inflame world conflicts.
“May the Lord also sustain the efforts of all those in the international community inspired by good will to help that afflicted land to find, despite grave obstacles the harmony, justice and security that it has long awaited,” the pontiff said.
The pope’s message followed Guatemala’s announcement to move its Israel embassy to Jersualem.
The Central American nation’ announcement on Sunday came after two-thirds of U.N. member states approved a motion rejecting U.S. President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The latest development was met with severe criticism from the Palestinian foreign ministry, which slammed Guatemala’s decision as “shameful”.
“It’s a shameful and illegal act that goes totally against the wishes of church leaders in Jerusalem” and violates a non-binding U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning the U.S. move, the ministry said in a statement on Monday.
“The state of Palestine considers this as a flagrant act of hostility against the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and international law,” it said.
“The state of Palestine will act with regional and international partners to oppose this illegal decision.”
Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future independent state, whereas Israel has declared the whole city to be its “united and eternal” capital.