|FM Sharon Invites Pope to Visit Israel|
(Communicated by Foreign Ministry Spokesman)
Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon yesterday (Monday), 26.4.99, met at the Vatican with Pope John Paul II and other Holy See officials, including Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano and Secretary of Relations with States Jean Louis Tauran. The meeting, which was held in a cordial atmosphere, focused on the Jewish people’s historic tie to the Land of Israel as described in the Bible. FM Sharon invited Pope John Paul II to pay an official visit to Israel and Jerusalem during the 2000 celebrations.
FM Sharon thanked the Pope for his efforts in combating anti-Semitism, his relationship with the Jews, promoting human rights and brotherhood between nations. He emphasized that the Jewish people in general, and the Israeli government in particular, are committed to the peace process on the basis of negotiations and reciprocity. "Israel has until now diligently shown its willingness to cede areas of its historical homeland for the sake of peace, even though it has thwarted the acts of aggression against it for 50 years. This is unprecedented in the history of nations. However, there is one subject on which Israel will concede nothing, not now and not in the future: the security of the Jewish people in their homeland," said Sharon. The foreign minister then conveyed to the Pope blessings of peace from Jerusalem: the City of Peace — the capital of the Jewish people for 3000 years and the eternal capital of the State of Israel.
"Israel," said FM Sharon, "will warmly welcome and ensure the security of the pilgrims who will come, including, first and foremost, the ‘First Pilgrim’ — the Pope — as part of an event that will lead to the creation of an atmosphere of friendship, promoting peace for the entire world."
In a working meeting with Secretary of Relations with States Jean Louis Tauran, FM Sharon briefed his host on the status of the peace process with the Palestinians and Israel’s insistence regarding its sovereignty over Jerusalem and the city’s remaining united as Israel’s capital. Using maps, he explained Israel’s need for security zones in the western part of Judea and Samaria and along the eastern border as a condition for any future permanent settlement with the Palestinians. He also stated that Israel opposes — and would take action in response to — any unilateral Palestinian declaration regarding the establishment of a Palestinian state.
FM Sharon heard the Vatican position regarding the situation in Nazareth and will pass it along to the prime minister.
Regarding bilateral issues, FM Sharon noted the pressures on Christians to leave cities in the Palestinian Authority, such as Bethlehem and Beit Jala, and the fears of similar attempts against Christians in eastern Jerusalem.
He promised that in the framework of the 2000 celebrations, Israel would examine the possibility of easing the expected entry into Israel of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and tourists, including priests.
He also noted the dangers and threats caused by Iran’s non-conventional and ballistic missile armament programs, and Israel’s attempts to block these efforts.
FM Sharon also asked his interlocutors to utilize the Holy See’s connections and influence to obtain information regarding the fate of POW Ron Arad and other IDF MIAs from the 1982 Battle of Sultan Yakoub.
Later, at a meeting with leaders of the Italian Jewish communities and organizations, Sharon called for Italian Jewry to maintain their Jewish identity and to immigrate to Israel.