“All the day they trouble mine affairs; all their thoughts are against me for evil.” (Psalms 56:6)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issued a Christmas message Monday in which he suggested Israel persecutes Christians and claimed Jesus was a “Palestinian messenger.” Despite the confrontational tone of his message, he maintains he is committed to negotiations with Israel.
“As we Palestinians strive for our freedom two millennia later,” he wrote in a statement, “we do our best to follow his example. We work with hope, seeking justice, in order to achieve a lasting peace.”
Abbas elaborated on the PA’s commitment towards a peaceful settlement with Israel, “including ending the occupation of the Holy Land with the establishment of a fully independent and sovereign Palestinian State on the 1967 border with East Jerusalem as its capital.”
He was critical of Israel, saying, this Christmas Eve, our hearts and prayers will be with the millions who are being denied their right to worship in their homeland.
“We are thinking of our people in Gaza, trapped under siege, and of those who are prevented from worshiping in Bethlehem,” he said. “Our hearts and prayers are with the people of Al Dbayeh Refugee Camp in Beirut, along with all of our Palestinian refugees — Christians and Muslims uprooted from their hometowns in 1948 and who, since that time, have suffered the vicissitudes of a forced exile.”
Abbas went on to express solidarity with his Christian constituents, claiming, “Christians are not a minority here, they are an integral part of the Palestinian people. Orthodox, Catholics, Armenians, Assyrians, Lutherans, Anglicans, Copts, Melkites, Protestants and others are all part of the rich mosaic of this free, sovereign, democratic and pluralistic Palestine we aspire to have and as established in our declaration of independence and draft constitution.”
As heart-warming as such a description may be, it flies in the face of reality, as Christian populations throughout Muslim-controlled areas across the Middle East dwindle. Israel is the only country in the region whose Christian population is growing. In Bethlehem, birthplace of Jesus, where Christians used to make up the majority, they are now in the minority.
Israeli officials scoffed at Abbas’ comments. Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told The Times of Israel, “He should have read the Gospel before uttering such offensive nonsense, but we will forgive him because he doesn’t know what he’s doing.” He referred to Abbas’ statement as an “outrageous rewriting of Christian history.” He called Abbas’ harsh words, “not exactly in the spirit of Christmas,” and joked, “Maybe he needs a hug from Santa?”
Another Israeli official took offense to Abbas’ implication that Israeli policy is responsible for the mass Christian departure from the Holy Land. “The exodus of Christians from Bethlehem turned into a flood the moment the PA took control,” the official said.