On December 6, 2017 a significant, controversial event shook the representatives of all major world religions: the United States of America recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It looks like a new turning point appeared in the 70-years-long history of the Palestine conflict.
The key phase of the struggle for the ancient city between Jews and Arabs is usually considered to take place in 1967, when Israeli troops captured Jerusalem during the Six-Day War. Another prominent circumstance happened in 1980 when the Jerusalem Law, a text proclaiming Jerusalem as the “one and indivisible” capital of Israel, was adopted by the Knesset.
And, last but not least, the United States of America’s recent unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel is likely to mark a third turning point in the conflict.
The whole world responded immediately to the recent US move. The Pope, for example, called for "respecting the status of the city in accordance with UN resolutions", thus not recognizing it as the Israeli capital only. The leaders of all Christian denominations in Jerusalem, including the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilus III, called upon Donald Trump to reconsider this dangerous step on the same day that the US President announced his decision. Furthermore, an extraordinary summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), spearheaded by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was immediately held in Istanbul and decreed that the Islamic world regards East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.
It is difficult to overestimate Jerusalem’s significance for any Christian, Jew, Muslim, and for any major political figure. Therefore, it is rather odd to witness no reaction to this announcement from Patriarch Bartholomew, the “first among equals” in the Orthodox world. But this impression is rather treacherous.
In spite of his title of Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I has long ago lost his right to freely express his opinion and implement his ideas. And this is not a speculation, this is rather a fact: Patriarch Bartholomew has so far kept silent on America's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
However, can the head of one of the largest churches in the world keep the distance from the escalation of a conflict threatening such dramatic bloodshed among the several religious communities populating the Palestinian soil? Since the US President acted in favor of the Jews, he triggered indeed angry reactions and the aggression of the Muslim community around the world.
However, His Holiness Bartholomew I has not been vocal in solving the problems of the Muslim community, unless the Muslims in question are Turkish. Turkish Muslims represent indeed a peculiar category for the Patriarch; likewise, the relations between the United States and the Republic of Turkey constitute a very touchy subject for Bartholomew I. And he has no other choice than to keep silent.
On one hand, should Bartholomew I choose to condemn the actions of President Trump, problems with the Greek American Archdiocese would likely arise. Since it is no secret that the Archdiocese is one of the main “suppliers of donations” towards the Turkish Fanar, Bartholomew I has his hands tied. On the other hand, should the Patriarch support the actions of the US authorities, he would automatically undermine the Fanar’s relation with the Turkish Presidency. And it is prominent that back in 2007 Erdogan, Turkish Prime Minister at the time, explained the patriarch “where he belongs”: the Turkish Supreme Court of Appeal denied indeed Bartholomew I his right to universal status for a reason, referring to the fact that "The Patriarchate only has the permission to stay in Turkey, is just an object of Turkish law and there are no legitimate reasons for its recognition as universal." This means that, in the eyes of the Turkish authorities, the patriarch himself is not the spiritual leader of the world Christian community, but only the head of the local community of Orthodox Greeks.
Bartholomew I recently visited Jerusalem, where he received the honorary title of doctorate at the Hebrew University on December 6, 2017, on the same day of the historic recognition of the new capital of Israel by the USA. As he later explained, the title was granted him "in recognition of the merits in the interdenominational dialogue."
There is now a greater need of the interdenominational dialogue than ever before. Nevertheless, Patriarch Bartholomew I did not release any statements on the Jerusalem issue, though he benefits of a certain magnitude in the world politics. Does this circumstance entail that Patriarch Bartholomew's influence in the Christian world is not as strong as it is depicted?
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