ROME (Dec. 28)
The choice of Jerusalem as the site for this week’s signing of a historic accord establishing diplomatic relations between Israel and the Vatican is being viewed as a sign that the Holy See now implicitly recognizes the city as Israel’s capital.
The selection of Jerusalem for Thursday’s signing ceremony “represents a great satisfaction for the Israelis,” Marco Politi, a veteran Vatican correspondent, wrote this week in the Rome daily La Repubblica.
The signing represents the culmination of more than a year of complicated negotiations undertaken by an Israeli-Vatican bilateral commission, which worked out the language and terms of the accord.
On Wednesday, a day before the signing of the agreement, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin and Vatican Undersecretary of State Monsignor Claudio Maria Celli were scheduled to meet in the Vatican for a final formal meeting.
Under the terms of the agreement, Israel and the Vatican will exchange “special representatives” immediately. Within four months, they are scheduled to exchange ambassadors.
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, has reportedly agreed to respect the religious rights of all Catholics and to allow the church to operate schools, run charities and own property in Israel.
IRAN CALLS JEWS ‘GOD-KILLERS’
In a reflection of the dramatic turning point in Israeli-Vatican relations that the agreement represents, Pope John Paul II may soon pay an official visit to Israel. He announced this month that he plans to visit Lebanon in the spring and that he hopes to visit Israel after that.
Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro Valls stressed that the Vatican’s decision to recognize Israel fully was the fruit of a long series of steps above and beyond the negotiations of the bilateral commission. He said it was the pope who gave the process the final push toward completion.
According to news reports in Italy, the sharpest criticism of the new relationship between the Vatican and Israel has come from Iran.
On Tuesday, La Repubblica quoted Iran’s government daily, Kayha International, as criticizing the Vatican decision to recognize Israel, claiming it will lead to “a second betrayal of Jesus Christ” on the part of the Jews — whom the paper described as “God-killers.”
The Iranian news agency IRNA also criticized the pope for planning to visit Israel.
“Pope John Paul II is not content to legitimize Israel in violation of the fundamental principles of the Vatican, but actually even has plans to visit the illegal entity,” it said.
According to IRNA, Western governments pushed the pope to recognize Israel.
“If Christian leaders, in particular the Vatican, continue on this ingenuous way, they can find themselves in front of a second betrayal of Jesus Christ by the hands of the heir of Judah, and Christianity could suffer the destiny of the man that the Jews so happily crucified 2,000 years ago,” it said.