Vatican Offers to Host Talks Between Israel, Palestinians

Pope John Paul II has sent letters to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat expressing his “deep worry” over the deadlock in the peace process.

The letters, urging the two leaders to overcome obstacles and resume dialogue, were sent June 16, but the Vatican released their text only Thursday.

In them, the pope expressed his concern at the standstill in negotiations and said that the Vatican would be willing to host Israeli and Palestinian delegations to resume the talks “with good will.”

Israeli-Palestinian negotiations were suspended in March, after Israel began building a new Jewish neighborhood in southeastern Jerusalem and a Palestinian suicide bomber killed three Israelis at a Tel Aviv cafe.

Chief Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told reporters that the pope “wanted to stimulate the leaders to make a serious effort to get the process going again.”

In his letter to Netanyahu, the pope said, “The Israeli and Palestinian peoples are already shouldering a burden of suffering which is too heavy. This burden must not be increased; instead it deserves the utmost commitment to finding the paths of necessary and courageous compromises.”

Finding these paths would earn Netanyahu humanity’s gratitude, he wrote.

In his letter to Arafat, the pope described a “de facto interruption of dialogue.”

“My fear is that if this situation continues it will become increasingly difficult to revive the quest for the trust that is essential to every negotiation,” he wrote.

He said the painful lessons of the past must not prove “vain and useless.”

In neither of the letters did the pope refer to current causes of the stalemate in the peace negotiations.

He also did not mention his often-stated desire to visit the Holy Land before the year 2000.

But he did stress that peace in the region was particularly important now as millions of faithful from the three monotheistic religions that hold Jerusalem as a holy city — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — would want to visit the region in the years leading up to the millennium.

“Especially for this reason there should be peace, so that the meaning of the approaching Great Jubilee of the year 2000 may be complete,” he said in his letter to Arafat.

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