Israel and the Vatican signed an agreement of mutual
recognition Thursday, striving to put behind them 2,000 years of
often bitter Jewish-Catholic relations.
The accord is expected to lead to a pilgrimage to the Holy Land
next year by Pope John Paul II.
"Behind the agreement there are thousands of years of history
full of hatred, of fear and ignorance with a few islands of
understanding, of cooperation and of dialogue," Israeli Deputy
Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin said at the signing in Jerusalem.
"Behind the agreement there are very few years of light and many
more years of darkness."
Monsignor Claudio Celli, Vatican undersecretary for foreign
relations who signed the accord, said he hoped the Holy See would
now play a bigger role in Middle East peace talks and negotiations
on the future of Jerusalem. "We need . . . an umbrella that can
protect the peculiarity of this holy city, an international
warranty in order to protect, to save, to recognize the
(uniqueness) of the city for the three monotheistic religions,"
Still, there was dissent. Some Jews blame earlier Roman
Catholic Church teachings for fomenting anti-Semitism that led to
the Holocaust. Some Arabs believe that the Roman Catholic Church
should have waited until the status of Jerusalem was discussed in
peace talks before granting recognition.
In the accord, the Vatican agreed to combat anti-Semitism, and
Israel agreed to respect Catholic holy places and encourage
Christians to visit the Holy Land.
"It is not just an agreement on relations between the state of
the Vatican and the state of Israel, but this is a change in the
long, tortuous, painful relations between two great religions,"
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said at a dinner marking the
At a reception with Vatican officials, Peres said he also hoped
that reconciliation could be reached with Islam. "I hope the
day will come when a third partner will join this accord - the
Muslim partner - and that we will also reach a three-way agreement
between the three great religions: Judaism, Christianity and
Islam," he said.
The agreement caps a wave of international acceptance of Israel
following the collapse of the Soviet bloc beginning in 1989 and the
opening of U.S.-backed Mideast peace talks in 1991.
In Washington, the White House welcomed the accord. A statement
issued by Dee Dee Myers, President Bill Clinton's press secretary,
said the agreement would help maintain the "momentum for peace in
the Middle East."
Also in Washington, Archbishop William Keeler, president of the
National Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the accord marks "a
major step forward in the dialogue of reconciliation between the
Roman Catholic Church and the Jewish people."
Beilin and Celli signed the agreement of principles at the
Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.
They agreed to establish full diplomatic ties, with ambassadors
to be exchanged in about four months. The two sides have two years
to negotiate the details of the agreement.
Celli said the accord had "fundamental religious and spiritual
significance, not only for the Holy See and Israel, but for
millions of people throughout the world. …