Israel, Vatican Establish Full Relations Accord Gives Rome Voice in Jerusalem's Fate

Article excerpt

Putting aside a history of antagonism between the Jewish and Roman Catholic faiths, Israel and the Vatican established full diplomatic relations Wednesday and said ambassadors would be exchanged soon.

The accord cleared the way for the Vatican to have a say in peace negotiations on the future of Jerusalem. For the Jewish state, the ties were a reward for peacemaking with the Arabs.

"From today on, our relations with Israel are completely normal," Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro said in a low-key announcement by the Holy See.

The announcement capped an 18-month diplomatic effort to bring about a reconciliation between Israel, focus of the world's 13 million Jews, and the Vatican, which has moral authority over 900 million Catholics.

At a news conference in Jerusalem, Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin portrayed the agreement as a fruit of Israel's peace accord with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

"Many skeptics believed that it would be difficult, maybe impossible, to establish full diplomatic relations with the Vatican without a comprehensive peace agreement in the Middle East," Beilin said.

The Vatican was the 41st state to either establish, renew or upgrade relations since Arab-Israeli peace negotiations began in 1991.

Criticism of the accord was muted.

One dissident PLO faction, the Democratic Front, issued a statement in Damascus, Syria, expressing regret. It said Palestinians had expected the Vatican to continue refusing to establish full ties until Israel completely ended its occupation of Arab land.

A Vatican communique said the agreement provided a means to "defend that unique historic, cultural and religious patrimony," or inheritance, in the holy land and "above all" in Jerusalem, where the church has extensive property.

Until recent years, the Vatican endorsed the holy city being under international control. …