In a Christmas Eve video posted on Twitter, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a message to the world’s Christians: Jerusalem is their city too.
“We protect the rights of everyone to worship in the holy sites behind me,” Netanyahu says in the video, titled “Merry Christmas from Jerusalem, the capital of Israel!”
Concerns about Jerusalem – and whether people of all faiths would be welcome and represented there – have taken on new urgency since President Donald Trump announced Dec. 6 that the U.S. supports Jerusalem becoming Israel’s capital and plans to move the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, a Muslim, has insisted he’ll no longer accept any U.S. plans for Mideast peace because he interprets Trump’s Jerusalem plan as the administration siding with Israel on the region’s most sensitive issue.
But Trump’s plan appears to have drawn divided reactions from Christians, according to recent reports.
U.S. evangelicals largely back the plan, but Pope Francis – leader of the Roman Catholic Church -- called for the city’s status quo in the city to be respected, and several other Christian denominations have voiced opposition, Reuters reported.
The split reflects two views of Jerusalem, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Evangelicals back the Jerusalem plan because they tend to see the region in a biblical sense – with the Jewish return to Israel being part of a larger plan involving the return of Jesus Christ and Jews’ acceptance of him as the messiah, the newspaper reported.
“The formation of the state of Israel was not because of Jews,” Pastor Bruce Mills of the Jerusalem Baptist Church told a gathering of Christian clergy recently, according to the L.A. Times. “The formation of the state of Israel was because of evangelicals. … The whole idea is Jews coming back to Israel!”
But for many Christians in the Holy Land, contemporary political realities seem to factor more in their thinking, the Times reported. In Israel, Christians make up just 2 percent of the population, Reuters reported.
“The local Christians here are Palestinians,” the Rev. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, one of the most senior Catholic officials in the Holy Land, told reporters Dec. 20, according to the Times. “Their vision about Jerusalem is as Palestinians.
At a ceremony in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, traditional site of Jesus’ birth, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami al-Hamdallah spoke of Jerusalem as a city that needs to remain accessible to all religions, Reuters reported.
East Jerusalem, he said, “is a Palestinian, Arab, Muslim and Christian city, and there will be no Palestinian state without Jerusalem as its capital, and without this there will be no peace in the region nor in the whole world.”
Perhaps in a nod to the challenges that lie ahead, Netanyahu in his Christmas Eve video strikes a welcoming tone.
“For those of you who come to Israel,” he says to potential Christian pilgrims, “I’m going to take a guided tour. In fact, I’ll be your guide on this guided tour.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.