WASHINGTON (Feb. 16)
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres met here this week with the president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and discussed, among other issues, progress toward establishing diplomatic ties between the Vatican and Israel.
Monday’s meeting between Peres and Archbishop William Keeler of Baltimore represented yet another step in an ongoing dialogue between Israeli and Catholic officials.
In the one-hour meeting Monday, Keeler reiterated his support for Israel and its security and confirmed an invitation for Peres to come to the Vatican, said Avi Granot, the Israeli Embassy’s minister of church affairs.
Peres and Keeler also discussed the Middle East peace talks, with Keeler noting the importance he placed on the issue of Palestinian rights of self-determination.
Peres updated the archbishop on the progress of the Israeli-Arab peace negotiations, Granot said.
Keeler also said he was organizing a trip for American Jews and Catholics to visit Rome and Jerusalem.
Both Keeler and Peres, in separate appearances this week, also addressed the annual plenum of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council.
In his NJCRAC speech Sunday, Peres cited the importance of creating new ties between Israel and the Vatican, noting that he had invited the Pope to visit Israel.
Peres also said that Israel and the Vatican were “now negotiating to construct an official relationship between Christianity and Judaism, something that was postponed for the last 2,000 years.”
Keeler, who spoke at the NJCRAC plenum Monday, before his meeting with the Israeli foreign minister, said the ongoing peace process between Israel and its Arab neighbors has greatly facilitated the establishment of closer ties between Israel and the Vatican.
In the positive atmosphere that the peace process has created, “the State of Israel and the Holy See have formed a joint high-level commission and are moving in a direction which, at the end, will likely include a full and continuing diplomatic relationship,” the archbishop said.
Keeler, however, urged Israel to respect the rights of Christians living under its control, which he estimated as 110,000 in Israel and 60,000 in the administered territories.
“May I speak of a group which is often forgotten: the Christian minority,” Keeler said. “They have been there for centuries. Now they feel under siege.”
(Contributing to this report was JTA staff writer Debra Nussbaum Cohen in Washington.)