A breakthrough is expected soon in relations between Israel and the Vatican.
Official bilateral talks will begin shortly, possibly next month, leading eventually to the establishment of full diplomatic relations between the Jewish state and the Holy See, according to informed sources here.
The Vatican says it recognizes Israel de facto, but it has withheld formal diplomatic representation. Lately, contacts between them have warmed, a development officials attribute to the improvement in Israel’s international standing.
China and India recently established full diplomatic relations with Israel, toward which both had long been hostile. With the end of the Cold War, Israel also has re-established diplomatic ties with the former Soviet Union and its successor states, as well as with all of the Eastern European countries that, following Moscow’s lead, severed ties with Israel in 1967.
“Some circles in the Curia itself were beginning to feel a sense of lagging behind the international trend,” said one source here.
Those circles have worn down the traditional resistance to ties with Israel, which was usually grounded in fear of adverse effects on Catholic communities in Arab countries.
The Vatican has relations with 18 of the 21 Arab League member states. It has no ties, however, with Israel’s neighbor, Jordan, on the grounds that its borders have not yet been finalized under international law.
RECOGNITION NEVER AT ISSUE
The same reason has often been cited for denying Israel diplomatic recognition. The sources believe the Vatican will announce diplomatic relations with Israel and Jordan simultaneously.
They say talks between the Vatican and Israel would be the culmination of several helpful developments.
They cite the Vatican’s January 1991 statement of sympathy for Israel’s suffering under Iraqi missile attacks during the Persian Gulf War.
That statement denied that the Vatican does not recognize Israel. It insisted that recognition was never at issue, only diplomatic relations.
But its most significant portions were the assertion that there is no theological bar to recognition of Israel and the acknowledgment of Israel’s special place in the Jewish world.
Further hints of improved relations were contained in an interview with Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, who is known as the Vatican’s foreign minister, in the October 1991 edition of the German news magazine Die Welt, in which he held out prospects of diplomatic recognition if the Palestinian and border issues were resolved.
More recently, Israel was visited by a group of cardinals, including Cardinal John O’Connor, the archbishop of New York.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, president of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, is currently on a private visit to Israel. He has met with Mayor Teddy Kollek of Jerusalem.
The sources add to those developments the especially warm conversation between Pope John Paul II and Israel’s new ambassador to Italy, Avi Pazner, who paid a courtesy call on the pontiff two weeks ago.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.