The Agreement between the Vatican and Israel:
Theodore Herzl met with Pope Pius X in 1904 and asked the Roman Church to support Jewish aspirations for a return to their traditional homeland in Israel. The pope was blunt. “The Jews have not recognized our Lord, therefore we cannot recognize the Jewish people.”
For practical purposes, that is where matters stood between the Vatican and Israel for 99 years. The United Nations partition of Palestine garnered Vatican approval only because Jerusalem would remain under international control.
Despite the recognition of most of the world to Israel after 1948,to the Vatican, however, it seemed that no recognition of Israel would be possible unless three issues were resolved: Israel’s borders must be solidified; Jerusalem’s status must be settled; Catholics living in Arab countries must be protected against backlash from any deal with Israel.
In 1992, the Vatican and Israel agreed to agree. Negotiators set to work to hammer out terms of recognition. They prepared a text in Hebrew and English. On December 30, 1993,the Vatican and Israel signed the Fundamental Agreement Between the Holy See and the State of Israel.
It was decided on 29 July 1992 to establish a “Bilateral Permanent Working Commission”, in order to study and define together issues of common interest, and in view of normalizing their relations; and upon that, an agreement was decided to provide a sound and lasting basis for the continued development of their present and future relations and for the furtherance of the Commission’s task,
Place of signature:
Signed in Jerusalem, 13 December 1993.
The Agreement involved three relationships.
- The normalization of relations between the Holy See and the State of Israel that led to the exchange of Ambassadors four months later.
- As the Preamble of the Agreement indicates, the accord took place within the wider context of Catholic-Jewish reconciliation on which it undoubtedly had a profoundly positive impact in turn. Indeed, for many Jews especially in Israel, the diplomatic normalization served as testimony and proof of the genuineness of the transformation in theological attitudes and teaching that had taken place over the previous decades.
- The relationship between the Catholic Church in Israel and the State.
The juridical agreement gave legal recognition to the Church’s internal structure, strengthening her control of her own institutions in Israel.
While the Church’s institutions and communities in Israel are indeed subject to the laws of Israel, they nevertheless derive their internal authority and structure from Rome. The Vatican sought to have this structure and its authority recognized as such by the State of Israel – which is a historic achievement for the Catholic Church. In effect, this agreement concerning the Church’s legal status is recognition on the part of the Israel of the Holy See’s historic standing and inherent stake in the Holy Land. The Vatican insists that nothing in its agreements with Israel should be interpreted as taking a position on unresolved borders, let alone on the future of Jerusalem, which is a matter of dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. Yet one cannot but be struck by the significance of it registering these institutions under Israeli law and sovereignty.
The very fact that the Holy See has done so, raises questions about some of the other positions of the Vatican, not least of all its call for “international guarantees concerning the future of religious rights and freedoms in Jerusalem. This itself is a change from the former position of the Holy See supporting the internationalization of the city. However, normalizing relations between the two and confirming Israel’s commitment to religious freedom, the protection of the holy sites, and the legal ‘status quo’ governing them; the question of whether Israel is trustworthy partner or not is aroused.
Hence, the Vatican’s call for international guarantees is not simply the result of a lack of trust in Israel, but it has obtained a significant achievement in Israel’s acknowledgment of its inherent status and stake in the Holy Land.
By obtaining the signatures of all possible interested parties to the future of Jerusalem on the principle of religious freedom and respect for the aforementioned ‘status quo’, the Vatican could obtain the extra legal protection for its interests, should any part of Jerusalem come under the rule of anyone other than Israel. In effect, the call for “international guarantees” appears to reflect a shrewd policy of the Vatican for any eventuality by which Israel is not in control of areas of “strategic interest” to the Catholic Church. However the content of the agreement between the Holy See and Israel on the legal status of Church personality may certainly be seen as a vote of confidence in Israel on the part of the Vatican.
One of the most important ways in which this change, while there has been a little of this on a cultural level, there could and should be much more collaboration, cultural, educational and interreligious. Not least of all in this regard is the impressive commitment in the Fundamental Agreement of the Holy See to join with the State of Israel in the actual combat of anti-Semitism as well as other bigotry throughout the world.
Agreement between the Vatican and the PLO
The agreement came after the Palestinians recently expressed concern about new housing in and around the Holy City’s eastern half, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War.
The agreement was the most significant development in PLO-Vatican relations since official ties were established in 1994.
Place of signature:
Signed in the Vatican, fifteenth of February, 2000
The “Basic Agreement Between the Holy See and the PLO dealt with the following matters:
- Freedom of religion
- Human rights
- Freedom of church institutions and their legal, economic and fiscal status in Palestinian-ruled areas.
- About the third of the agreement dealt with the issue of Jerusalem.
- The agreement said, “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 mentioned also, “unilateral decisions and actions altering the specific character and status of Jerusalem are morally and legally unacceptable.”
- It called for “a special statute for Jerusalem, internationally agreed” to safeguard “the proper identity and sacred character of the city and defend its universally significant religious and cultural heritage.”
The immediate reaction from Israel was that:” any unilateral decisions affecting Jerusalem were “morally and legally unacceptable, and considered the agreement as an interference in the negotiations between Israel and Palestinians.”