Abbas criticises US in Christmas message

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas on Friday issued Christmas greetings in a message deploring the United States' recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and recalling that Christianity began in the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

"This time every year, the souls of billions of people turn to Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the messenger of love, peace and justice," Abbas said.

"Over 2,000 years ago, the message of Jesus was delivered from a humble manger in Bethlehem."

But Abbas recalled that Palestinians - "many of them are part of the oldest Christian community worldwide" - have been living under Israeli occupation for 50 years and in April will mark 70 years since the 'Nakba' when 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes, during the 1948 Palestine war.

"Both, occupation and exile, are an ongoing reality for over 12 million Palestinians living all over the world," Abbas said.

"Many of them are part of the oldest Christian community worldwide, yet they have been denied from living and worshipping in the Land of Jesus Christ only because Israel considers all Palestinians as a “demographic threat”.

Bethlehem is currently surrounded by 18 illegal Jewish settlements that are under ongoing expansion on Palestinian land, Abbas noted.

"The birthplace of hope, continues to be affected by the Israeli plans to create the “Greater Jerusalem” on the sufferings of Palestinians, Abbas said.

He called the 708 kilometre-long Israeli West Bank barrier a "wall of shame and apartheid" that affected the livelihoods of hundreds of Palestinian families, mainly Christians.

Abbas attacked the "biased" decision by United States president Donald Trump to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, calling the move "an insult to millions of people worldwide" and warning that Palestinians would not accept the US as mediator in the peace process, or any US plan.

"Regretfully, the US has decided, against its obligations under international law, to reward such policies by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This has been an insult to millions of people worldwide, and also to the city of Bethlehem," Abbas stated.

The US decided to support Israel’s claims and rhetoric of an exclusive “Jewish capital”, over the inclusion and respect that a city important to the three monotheistic religions should have. The U.S. also ignored that East Jerusalem is an integral part of the Occupied State of Palestine."

Abbas paid tribute to the work in the Palestinian territories carried out by local churches and their institutions "that serve all Palestinians regardless of their religion."

Christians in the Holy Land have made a "precious" contribution" to the national movement, Abbas stated, recalling that through their church leaders they "strongly rejected" the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital .

Palestinians draw inspiration from the message of Jesus, "who refused injustice and spread a word of hope," Abbas claimed.

"While the US administration has decided to reward injustice and threaten others who do not support it, we will continue our path towards freedom and independence," said Abbas.

"We will continue working for the freedom of our country and the return of our people. We will continue working for achieving our rights and ending this illegal-colonial occupation."

"I wish all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year."