Vatican, PLO team up on Jerusalem


ROME, Feb. 16 (JTA) — The Vatican and the Palestine Liberation Organization, in a clear message to Israel, have signed a landmark agreement that says any unilateral decisions on Jerusalem would be “morally and legally unacceptable.”

The agreement is perhaps the most significant development in PLO-Vatican relations since official ties were established in 1994. It paves the way for full diplomatic ties.

A day after the agreement was signed, the Israeli Foreign Ministry summoned a papal envoy to protest the references to Jerusalem in the agreement.

Israel accused the Vatican of interfering in peace talks with the Palestinians, but Monsignor Petro Sambi said Israel had misinterpreted the agreement.

“There is no reference to the political situation of Jerusalem” and the document only makes “reference to the religious aspect of Jerusalem,” Sambi said.

While Vatican and Palestinian delegations were signing the agreement Tuesday, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat met privately with Pope John Paul II, who is scheduled to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land next month.

They discussed Middle East issues and also agreed to add the West Bank town of Jericho to the papal itinerary. The pope, who has already planned a stop at the Palestinian-ruled town of Bethlehem, also plans to visit sites in Israel and Jordan next month.

Most of the agreement signed Tuesday touches on day-to-day bilateral issues, including the status of church institutions in Palestinian-ruled areas.

Its preamble, however, focuses mainly on Jerusalem.

It says “an equitable solution for the issue of Jerusalem, based on international resolutions, is fundamental for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”

It also says, “Unilateral decisions and actions altering the specific character and status of Jerusalem are morally and legally unacceptable.”

And it calls for “a special statute for Jerusalem, internationally agreed” to safeguard “the proper identity and sacred character of the city and its universally significant religious and cultural heritage.”

The Vatican has long maintained that Jerusalem should come under an international mandate as a holy city.

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