Menu JTA Search

Peace Process May Have Hindered Israeli-vatican Pact on Relations

Contrary to popular belief, the historic accord signed in September between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization may have actually delayed the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between Israel and the Vatican rather than spurred it on, according to one source involved in the negotiations.

Many have interpreted the Vatican’s decision to finally recognize the State of Israel now, after more than four decades, as a direct result of the peace process and Israel’s shedding of the pariah status that long clung to it in the international community.

But Rabbi David Rosen believes the recent Israeli-PLO accord may actually have slowed things down. Rosen, an expert on interreligious affairs, is one of seven members of the Israeli team that negotiated with seven Vatican representatives for just over a year on the diplomatic agreement, which is expected to be signed in Jerusalem on Thursday.

Under the agreement, Israel and the Vatican will exchange “special representatives” immediately, and within four months ambassadors will be named.

Among those being considered for a posting as Israel’s first ambassador to the Vatican is Rosen himself, a former chief rabbi of Ireland who is now director of interfaith affairs in Israel for the Anti-Defamation League.

The agreement also reportedly includes a commitment by the Roman Catholic Church to oppose anti-Semitism throughout the world and to support the current Middle East peace process.

Israel, in turn, reportedly has agreed to respect the religious rights of all Catholics and to allow the church to operate schools, run charities and own property in Israel.

Most of the work on the agreement between Israel and the Vatican “had been completed by May, and it was a matter of endorsement by the hierarchy,” Rosen said recently from Israel.

DIDN’T WANT POLICIES DICTATED BY ARAFAT

The peace handshake at the White House between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat “probably delayed it because the Vatican didn’t want to be seen as having its policies determined by Arafat,” he said.

“There have been purely bureaucratic delays since the end of September,” he said. “It would have been nice if the church would have contributed to the peace process earlier in the day, but that doesn’t detract from the historic culmination of the 30 years’ process, and that’s certainly exciting.”

Rosen, in his comment about the 30-year process, was speaking of the Second Vatican Council, convened by Popes John XXIII and Paul VI from 1962 to 1965, which culminated with the promulgation of the document “Nostra Aetate” (In Our Time).

The document, for the first time in Catholic history, called for an improved relationship between the church and Jewish people, lifted the church’s charge of deicide against the Jews and decried anti-Semitism as contrary to the spirit of the Gospel.

This year’s agreement between the Vatican and Israel, said Rosen, is the “climax of a process of reconciliation that started with the Second Vatican Council.”

Though the agreement’s content was in place by May, working out the language of the document itself took several months more, said Rosen.

“Working out a text was very complicated business. Both parties are very textually oriented religious traditions, and a nuance is not insignificant.

“These are two parties with different perspectives on the nature of the authority it is subject to,” he explained.

“There have obviously been some difficult moments, but the discussions have generally been cordial and businesslike, with a common determination to reach this stage,” said Rosen.

The negotiating teams met sporadically, rotating between Rome and Jerusalem.

They brought in representatives of various Israeli ministries and professional experts to help them hone the finer points of the agreement.

They would typically gather for a week, break for a week and then meet again for a week, said Rosen, for a total half-dozen time.

He said one hiatus of several months occurred as an unofficial expression of protest from the Vatican side when Israel deported 415 Muslim extremists from the administered territories to southern Lebanon in December 1992.

NEXT STORY