Israel, Vatican Reported Close to Establishing Full Relations

Israeli and Vatican negotiators have reached an agreement that could soon lead to the establishment of full diplomatic relations.

While the world’s attention was focused last week on the signing of a historic Palestinian self-rule agreement by Israeli and Palestine Liberation Organization officials in Washington, members of a Vatican-Israeli commission put the finishing touches on a historic agreement of their own.

Successfully capping 14 months of negotiations, the commission met Sept. 13 and 14 and agreed on a 14-point agenda for the normalization of relations between Israel and the Vatican, said sources close to the talks.

The agenda includes a provision that the church will take a stand against anti-Semitism.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry acknowledged on Sunday the reports concerning the Vatican-Israeli commission, but said the process of establishing full diplomatic relations would be gradual.

Nevertheless, an announcement that the two parties would establish full diplomatic relations is expected within weeks.

Negotiations for normalization of relations have been taking place since July 1992.

Disagreements over a number of technical issues — including taxation, the disposition of church property and the church’s official standing in Israel — had held up the negotiating process.

But a major political hurdle was cleared last week with the signing of the Israeli-PLO accord.

The Vatican has resisted establishing full diplomatic relations with Israel since the state was founded in 1948.

Pope Paul VI visited Jerusalem in 1964, but the Vatican’s formal recognition of Israel has always been sidelined by a number of issues, including Israeli recognition of the rights of the Palestinian people.

In New York, the agreement was welcomed by a spokesman for the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, which represents world Jewry in dealings with the Vatican.

“The question of relations between the Catholic Church and the State of Israel has been of greater importance for the standing of the Vatican than for Israel. We, however, welcome it as auguring well for Catholic-Jewish relations,” the spokesman said.

On Sunday, Israel’s Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau left for Italy, where he was due to meet Tuesday with Pope John Paul II.

The meeting will mark the first time John Paul has met with a top Israeli Jewish leader. The two will meet at the pope’s summer residence at Castelgandolfo just outside Rome.

According to Israel Television, Lau and the pope will discuss anti-Semitism and will call for an end to acts of bloodshed committed in the name of religion.

NEXT STORY