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Vatican, Israel Near Accord on Diplomatic Relations

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Israel and the Vatican are on the verge of an agreement to establish diplomatic ties, according to an official at the Israeli Embassy here.

The accord would create the first official ties between Israel and the Catholic Church.

“Israel and the Vatican are very close to establishing diplomatic relations,” Avi Granot, counselor for church affairs at the embassy, said Wednesday.

Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress, welcomed the development in a statement issued in New York.

“This is the most important step in the normalization of relations between Catholics and Jews since Nostra Aetate,” he said.

Bronfman was referring to the 1965 document from the Second Vatican Council that promoted dialogue with the Jews and rejected the centuries-long position that Jews bore guilt for Christ’s death.

The agreement would have to be ratified by the Israeli government and the Vatican.

Granot said that the agreement could come “tomorrow or in a month, I don’t know,” but that it would come in weeks rather than months.

He said that “1993 has been quite a miraculous year,” and that it would be “nice if 1993 were remembered also” for the establishment of relations between Israel and the Vatican.

This year already has seen the landmark Israeli-Palestinian accord and an agreement between Israel and Jordan.

Granot said that once the agreement was announced, the two sides would discuss a possible papal visit to Israel.

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.

Last year, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres invited Pope John Paul II to visit Israel.

Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau repeated the invitation when he met the pontiff in September.

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