26-Mar-97 -- EWTN Vatican Update

TENSIONS IMPERIL JUBILEE IN JERUSALEM Vatican (CWN) --

The tensions that surround new Israeli housing plans in East Jerusalem are threatening to derail plans for the celebration of the Jubilee in the Holy City, according to the president of an organizing committee there.

Bishop Kamal Hanna Bathish of Jericho, a Palestinian member of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, complained in the Italian daily Il Corriere della Sera, "The Israelis have practically isolated Jerusalem from the rest of the Holy Land. The crisis in the peace process is more and more profound. If things get worse, we might have to consider the possibility of pulling the city out of the Jubilee ceremonies.

" Bishop Bathish pointed out that the threat to the Jubilee ceremonies could have crucial economic overtones for Israel as well. If there are no Jubilee ceremonies in Jerusalem, he said, the number of tourists visiting the Holy Land would probably remain at its usual level: about 800,000 a year. But if pilgrims follow the Pope's invitation to visit first Rome and then Jerusalem in the years of the Jubilee, Israel could expect to receive 10 to 15 million visitors in the year 2000.

The Palestinian bishop was highly critical of the Netanyahu government, which he said "has practically closed Jerusalem." He complained that Christians from Bethlehem are stopped by soldiers when they go to Jerusalem to pray at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Bishop Bathish also pointed out that the 140,000 Christians living in Israel, and especially the 40,000 in the occupied territory of the West Bank, are caught between the hostility of the Israeli government toward all Palestinians and the suspicions of their Muslim neighbors that Christians might betray the Arab cause. These tensions, he said, are most pronounced in the region around Bethlehem and Hebron.

Finally, the bishop reported that relations between the Catholic Church and the Israeli government have cooled in recent months. A proposed meeting between the Vatican nuncio and the Israeli foreign minister, scheduled for yesterday, was indefinitely postponed, he revealed.