VATICAN CITY (Mar. 22)
When Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin met here last week with Pope John Paul II, he asked the pontiff to use the Vatican’s influence with the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Arab states to get the Middle East peace process back on track.
Rabin’s request during the March 17 Vatican visit marked a remarkable turnabout in relations between Jerusalem and the Holy See, who until recently had no formal relations. Israel has long been wary of the Vatican’s pro-Palestinian leanings.
Rabin told reporters after the meeting that he had not asked the pope to initiate any specific diplomatic moves. But he said he believed the Vatican “can have a moral influence on many countries and many people” and thus put pressure on the Arabs to resume the negotiations.
Rabin also said that Israel would consider in principle withdrawal of troops from the Golan Heights if Israel’s security was assured, and said Israel is considering further measures against both Jewish and Arab extremists in the wake of last month’s massacre of at least 29 Palestinians at a Hebron mosque by an Israeli settler.
Rabin, en route back to Israel from Washington, met for half an hour with the pope at the Vatican — a meeting Rabin had requested. It was the first such visit by an Israeli head of state since the Vatican and Israel signed an agreement Dec. 30 paving the way for full diplomatic ties.
BOOSTING VATICAN ROLE IN PEACE PROCESS
“Rabin informed the Holy Father about his talks in Washington and explained everything that was said there,” Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro Valls said after the meeting. “But the main topic was to boost the role of the Holy See in the peace proces,” he said.
“It has to be studied, but everything is open,” he said. “Certainly the Holy See’s relations with the Arab countries could help.”
Rabin’s meeting with the pope coincided with a visit of the Vatican foreign minister, Monsignor Jean-Louis Tauran, to Tunisia and Libya, in which he met with PLO officials and local leaders.
Navarro said the timing of Tauran’s trip was purely coincidental. “I would not say that this is a new initiative of the Holy See,” but rather development of existing policy, Navarro said. “Tauran has traveled earlier” in Arab countries.
Navarro, who characterized Rabin’s meeting with the pope as “very cordial,” said both parties were firm about “doing whatever possible to further the peace process in the Middle East, in spite of the recent regrettable incidents and also the difficulty posed by those who in every way want to thwart it or make it fail.”
He said Rabin “recognized and underlined the positive role that the Holy See is now playing in emphasizing the fundamental values of peace, justice and human rights, and the peaceful coexistence among peoples.”
Rabin also renewed Israel’s invitation for a papal visit Israel. No specific dates were given, but a Vatican spokesman said the pope accepted the invitation “with sincere hope that circumstances will permit him to make this desired visit.”