NEW YORK (Dec. 15)
The agreement establishing formal diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Israel, expected to be signed at the end of the month, is said to cover a range of issues, from the status of Jerusalem to anti-Semitism.
The agreement, which Israeli and Vatican negotiators have kept tightly under wraps, also is believed to contain provisions for the legal standing of the Catholic Church in Israel and to allow the Catholic Church jurisdiction over matters related to Catholics’ personal status, including marriage and conversion.
Sources said that personal envoys of the two governments will be the first diplomats to officially represent their governments in the other’s country.
An exchange of ambassadors holding full diplomatic credentials is expected to take place within several weeks of the signing.
That represents a compromise between Israel, which wanted an immediate full exchange, and the Vatican, which preferred the lower-level exchange initially, said sources.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry representatives who have been negotiating with their Vatican counterparts in a joint commission since July 1992 have long been pressing for an agreement to be signed by the end of this month.
PROCESS TO BE COMPLETED BY DEC. 31
Until this week, Vatican representatives were insisting on a deadline of the end of January, Israeli sources said.
Now it seems that the Vatican has agreed to conclude the process by Dec. 31.
A small ceremony is expected to take place at the Vatican on Dec. 30, followed by a full signing later that day in Jerusalem.
Avi Granot, counselor for church affairs at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, said the symbolism of establishing formal diplomatic ties in 1993 was a significant factor.
“To end 1993 with a bang is nice since it has been a very historical year in regard to the Middle East.
“It will be nice to end it with the first time in history that the Vatican and Israel established full diplomatic relations,” he said.
In the view of Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, the Vatican also would like to see full and formal diplomatic ties by the end of 1993 so celebrations can coincide with the 30th anniversary of the visit to Jerusalem of Pope Paul VI.
Paul VI, who visited Israel Jan. 5-7, 1964, was the first pontiff to visit the Holy Land, according to a Jewish Telegraphic Agency report of his trip.
The pope was greeted by then-President Zalman Shazar, although Israel’s chief rabbi, Yitzhak Nissim, refused to meet with him.
The signing of the Israeli-Vatican agreement is expected to be followed shortly by a visit to the Jewish state by the current pope, John Paul II.
A significant aspect of the agreement is that it contains no reference to the final status of Jerusalem, said Rabbi A. James Rudin, director of interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee.
“That the Vatican is acknowledging that it’s not within their sovereignty to decide is an enormous change,” he said.
The Holy See in 1948 called for international, joint rule over-Jerusalem, a demand it dropped in 1968.
In 1987, the pope said there were no theological obstacles to establishing relations with Israel.
And a 1989 resolution issued by a commission of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, headed by Cardinal John O’Connor, said that ultimate sovereignty of Jerusalem must be decided by the people who live there.