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Israeli Chief Rabbi to Meet with the Pope at the Vatican

August 25, 1993
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Pope John Paul II has invited Israeli Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Israel Lau to meet with him at the Vatican on Sept. 21, according to Israeli sources.

It will be the first time that a chief rabbi of Israel meets with a pope.

The two religious leaders are expected to discuss the establishment of diplomatic ties between the Vatican and State of Israel, as well as relations between Jews and Christians.

Lau is also expected to invite the pope to visit Israel and to ask the pope to intercede in efforts to locate missing Israeli airman Ron Arad.

Talks between Israel’s Foreign Ministry and the Vatican have come to a virtual standstill in recent months and are not progressing as quickly as many observers had hoped they would.

Vatican officials are insisting on establishing relations not on the full ambassadorial level, but one step below that, sending personal representatives of each government to the other state.

“The Vatican is not willing to go the full step because it is probably being pressured by Arab countries” not to do so, said Avi Granot, counselor for church affairs at the Israeli Embassy in Washington.

The Israeli government may be willing to settle at less than a full exchange of ambassadors, if it means formalizing relations with the Vatican, said Granot.

“It would make sense. It’s just a matter of time. Politics has its own course,” he said. Establishing diplomatic relations, even at less than the ambassadorial level, would mean formalizing channels of communication “which would give dignity to both sides,” said Granot.

While most issues relating to the establishment of ties have been discussed and settled, he said, those still under discussion at the last meeting of the working groups in May were: taxation of church-related institutions in Israel; protection of Christian holy places there; and authority over those holy places.

The next meeting of the small working groups involved in negotiating the agreement has not yet been scheduled.

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