Midnight mass in Bethlehem this year took place with high-ranking Israeli and Palestinian officials taking part, including Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. Peace talks between the two sides may have resumed but the atmosphere is mainly one of recriminations from the Palestinians over continued expansion of Jewish settlements.
Jerusalem’s Archbishop Michael Sabah called on the two sides to reconcile their differences, and he criticised Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories and the existence of what he called “political prisons”.
Abbas for his part declared 2008 would be a year of economic stability and security and, he hoped, independence.
And for the first time in years it is mainly Palestinian police in force on Bethlehem’s streets. Traders report the quietest year, and the best for business, in seven years.
The Palestinian deployment is only the third time a large-scale operation has taken responsibility for security in a west bank town since Hamas took control of Gaza in June.