"In what the church leaders say is an attempt to ensure such free access, they seem to reflect the views of the Vatican, ......."


Jerusalem Post

December 31, 1994

Page 6


JEWS aren't in the habit of receiving Christmas presents. So it is perhaps understandable that the statement on the status of Jerusalem presented to the government by the heads of the Christian communities left Israeli officials with a distinct sense of disquiet.

The statement says that

Since both the municipal and the national authorities are Israeli, this sentence sounds like a direct challenge to Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem. No wonder Israeli officials were concerned.

Although Israeli government officials have chosen not to comment on the statement, Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert described it as ''a strange combination of prejudices and distorted perceptions."

Olmert was apparently referring to the statement's implicit comparison of the Jews to the Crusaders - a frequently heard anti-Israel charge:

Aside from the ancient Jewish claim on the Holy City, such a view ignores the fact that the Jews have been the largest religious community in Jerusalem since the 1830s and an absolute majority in the city since the 1860s.

However, it is not the historical or theological elements which are most disturbing, but rather the political call for a

The statement goes on to voice barely veiled criticism of Israel.

This isn't the first time church leaders in Jerusalem have charged that Israeli security precautions restrict freedom of access to the holy places even when the Israeli authorities have made special arrangements for Christians from the territories to come to religious ceremonies in Jerusalem.

In an interview last week, Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah was quoted as saying that

In what the church leaders say is an attempt to ensure such free access, they seem to reflect the views of the Vatican, with a call for international guarantees.

The statute on Jerusalem which the Christian leaders demand,

IRONICALLY, it is Israel's agreement with the Vatican - culminating in the exchange of ambassadors between Israel and the Holy See earlier this year - which led to the formulation of the statement. In the light of the formal agreement between Israel and the Catholic Church, the other historic churches began to feel uneasy about their own position vis-a-vis the Jewish state.

The other factor that has caused a feeling of uncertainty among the churches is the peace process with the Palestinians, especially as the issue of Jerusalem has been left as the last item in the negotiations.

The feeling of Christian insecurity may be seen in the regular visits by the heads of the churches to Yasser Arafat in Gaza, and by the fact that Christian leaders are unwilling to make public any infringement of their rights by Moslems. Indeed, one often has the feeling that Christians criticize Israel to appease the Palestinians.

Olmert said that there was no questioning the unique historic position of Jerusalem for all the monotheistic religions, and he promised that the status of the city would be preserved, as would freedom of access to Jerusalem's holy places.

Officially, although the statement was presented to Israeli and Jordanian officials, as well as to a representative of the Palestinian Authority, it was not made public. In practice, it has enjoyed wide circulation in Christian circles, including such bodies as the US Council of Bishops and the Middle East Council of Churches.

So far, Israeli officials, with the exception of Olmert, have accepted the nominally non-public nature of the statement and refrained from making any public response. However, in view of the fact that the declaration is bound to receive wider publicity, it behooves them not to leave this challenge unanswered.

The writer is a member of The Jerusalem Post editorial staff