Vatican Meets with PLO Official and Says It Will Step Up Contacts

The Vatican, which has refused so far to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, says it is planning to step up its contacts with Palestinians.

In an announcement last week, the Holy See said it would establish a “joint bilateral commission” with Palestinians and intensify contacts with Palestinians living in the Israeli-administered territories as well as those “in the diaspora.”

The announcement was made after Farouk Kaddoumi, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s “foreign minister,” met here Dec. 23 with the Vatican secretary of state, Monsignor Louis Touran.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro Valls said that during talks between Kaddoumi and Touran, “concern was expressed for the lack of movement in the peace process and for the increase in violence.”

The day before the meeting, the Vatican used a front-page article in its official newspaper, Osservatore Romano, to call upon Israel to reconsider its decision to expel 415 Palestinian fundamentalists to Lebanon.

The article urged both sides of the dispute to have a “sense of proportion, both in applying the law and in claiming your rights.”

Speaking to reporters before the meeting, Kaddoumi said he appreciated the Vatican’s position.

“The Vatican also feels without a doubt that the peace process is important, not only because Palestine is the Holy Land, but also because among those who are suffering are Christian Palestinians,” he said.

“We think that the moral role of the Vatican and the role of Italy in Europe are particularly important.”

While in Italy, Kaddoumi also met with Italian Foreign Minister Emilio Colombo and other Italian officials. He spoke to Colombo of the need to “pull the peace process out of its stagnation.”

Kaddoumi said the purpose of his visit to Italy was “to explain our current positions, our commitment, and to see how we can together find a solution and how our interlocutors can help us unblock this critical situation.”

Colombo said Italy considers the expulsion of the 415 Palestinians an “exaggerated” reaction, but he also sharply condemned the brutal killing by Palestinian fundamentalists of an Israeli border policeman, which he termed a danger to the peace process.

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