VATICAN-ISRAEL Aug-14-2000 (710 words)

Vatican official asks Israel to respect U.N. resolutions

By John Norton
Catholic News Service
        VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In talks with a top Israeli envoy, the
Vatican's foreign affairs official called on Israel to respect U.N.
resolutions on the Middle East and to recognize the ``equal rights'' of
all peoples in the region.
        Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, secretary for relations with
states, also expressed ``lively concern'' over a plan by Muslims,
permitted by the Israeli government, to build a mosque next to
Nazareth's Basilica of the Annunciation, the Vatican said.
        The archbishop met Aug. 14 with Shlomo Ben-Ami, Israel's acting
foreign minister and minister of public security, who was on an
international tour to garner support for the Israeli position in Middle
East peace talks.
        A Vatican statement said Ben-Ami assured of his government's
intent to further dialogue with the Palestinian Authority, ``also with
the assistance of the international community.''
        Archbishop Tauran underlined the Vatican's ``well-known
position'' regarding the peace process, which emphasizes ``respect for
international law on the part of all, in particular for the resolutions
of the United Nations'' and recognition of the ``equal rights and duties
of all the region's peoples.''
        These are the ``two indispensable requirements to put an end to
the situations of injustice and lack of security,'' the Vatican said.
        Over the years, the U.N. General Assembly has adopted numerous
resolutions calling Israel's 1967 annexation of East Jerusalem illegal.
        The papal diplomat also underscored the Vatican's view on the
region's Christian, Muslim and Jewish holy sites, which ``constitute a
sacred patrimony for all believers and have a universal value.''
        Because of their significance beyond the Holy Land, the Vatican
has called for international guarantees for the sites, particularly in
        Ben-Ami, speaking afterward to reporters at a Rome hotel, said
his hourlong meeting with Archbishop Tauran was ``very, very pleasant
and productive.''
        The Vatican ``obviously would like to see the sensibilities and
the interests of the Christians in Jerusalem being projected on the
negotiations in a more emphatic way than it was done so far,'' Ben-Ami
said. He said he was willing to meet the city's various Christian
patriarchs ``in order to assume and to integrate their sensibilities''
in a peace solution.
        He said Israel shared the Vatican's concern for religious
freedom and secure access to Christian, Muslim and Jewish sites in the
Holy Land.
        Regarding the Vatican's call for international guarantees,
Ben-Ami said he ``was happy to discover'' that the Holy See did not
intend an ``internationalization'' of Jerusalem, taking sovereignty out
of Israeli or Palestinian hands.
        He said the Israelis were willing to consider some sort of
foreign ``custodianship'' of at least certain holy sites, under rules
``articulated and decided by a security council, for example.''
        During a failed peace summit in July at Camp David in Thurmont,
Md., he said, the United States proposed such a solution for Jerusalem's
Temple Mount, home to Jewish and Muslim holy sites.
        Though the Palestinians rejected the proposal out of hand, ``we
saw it as a basis for negotiations, for continuing the talks,'' the
Israeli minister said.
        Turning to another point in his talks with Archbishop Tauran,
Ben-Ami said Israel would not rethink its decision to allow a mosque to
be built next to Nazareth's Basilica of the Annunciation, despite
Vatican concern.
        Given the region's limited size, members of different religions
must sometimes worship in close proximity, even if it sometimes creates
awkward situations, he said. He recalled Pope John Paul II's March visit
to the Holy Land, when the pontiff's Mass in Bethlehem was interrupted
by a Muslim call to prayer.
        ``We are very, very rich in history and religion; we are very
poor in geography,'' he said.
        ``What we should do, however, as a government, is to minimize
any disturbances. And I will exercise all my influence and power in
order to curtail any harassment, any kind of disturbances in that holy
yard,'' the Israeli security official said.
        Regarding the status of the peace process, Ben-Ami said he
foresaw a second summit in September, which he hoped to be ``short and
        He downplayed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's vow to
unilaterally declare statehood Sept. 13 as a negotiating tactic.
        ``We refuse to work under the threat of the 13th of September,''
he said. ``Since we are now immersed in deep, productive, constructive
negotiations, I don't believe it is of any use.''
08/14/2000 2:29 PM ET
Copyright (c) 2000 Catholic News Service/U.S. Catholic Conference


VATICAN, Aug. 14 ( -- Acting Israeli foreign minister
Shlomo Ben Ami visited the Vatican on August 14, to brief the Holy
See on the peace process in the Middle East.

The Israeli diplomat spent an hour in conversation with Archbishop
Jean-Louis Tauran, the Vatican's Secretary for Relations with States.
According to a Vatican news release, he underscored "the intention of
the Israeli government to pursue negotiations despite the latest
difficulties, and to support dialogue with the Palestinian Authority,
with the help of the international community."
Archbishop Tauran reiterated the position that has frequently been
voiced by the Holy See, emphasizing that a lasting peace must secure
the rights of all peoples in the region, and conform to the principles
set forth in existing United Nations resolutions.

The Vatican also disclosed that the conversation included an in-depth
discussion on the issue of access to the religious shrines of the Holy
Land, most notably those in Jerusalem. The Vatican has repeatedly
insisted that all religious believers should have free access to the
shrines. And the Vatican has indicated concern over the rise of
religious discord in Nazareth, where militant Muslims have insisted
on building a new mosque adjacent to the Basilica of the

After his meeting with Archbishop Tauran, Ben Ami said that the
talks had been "very agreeable." While arguing that Israel already
allows free access to the Christian and Muslim holy sites of
Jerusalem-- an argument which the Vatican does not entirely accept-
- the Israeli diplomat added that his government hopes for "further
talks with the leaders of Christian churches on this subject."