Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Ariel Sharon met on Monday, April 26, 1999 with His Holiness Pope John Paul II; Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano; and Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran.
The private audience with the Pope focused on a lengthy discussion of the historical and spiritual ties throughout the centuries of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, which the Pope referred to as "Terra Promessa" – the Promised Land.
The Foreign Minister told the Pope that he brings him greetings from Jerusalem: the city of peace which is open, providing freedom of worship to all faiths, the capital of the Jewish people for the past 3000 years, and the capital of the State of Israel for the past 51 years, and for all times.
Minister Sharon invited Pope John Paul II to visit Israel and Jerusalem during the celebrations of the year 2000. The Pope on his part expressed his wish to visit Israel during the millennium festivities.
The Foreign Minister indicated the deep appreciation and affection of the people in Israel and the Jewish people at large to the Pope for his unique contribution to the advancement of human rights and brotherhood among nations; the development and strengthening of relations during his reign between the Holy See and the Jewish people, and his efforts and major contributions in combating anti-Semitism around the world.
Foreign Minister Sharon emphasized that the Jewish people in general and the Israeli government in particular, want peace and are fully committed to the peace process on the basis of negotiations and the principle of reciprocity. "Israel has demonstrated until now consistently to do what no other nation has willingly done before: To give up territory which is part of its historical homeland – the cradle and roots of Jewish life, for the sake of peace. Israel made these concessions after it has repelled all acts of aggression against it for 50 years. This is unprecedented in the history of nations," said Minister Sharon. But there is one subject on which Israel will make no compromise, not now and not in the future: and that is the security of the citizens of Israel and the very existence of the State of Israel."
"I am first and foremost a Jew," the Foreign Minister told the Pope, and "as such I have an unwavering responsibility and commitment to ensure the life and security of the Jewish people, an issue on which there can be no compromise whatsoever."
"Israel and the people of Israel", said Foreign Minister Sharon, "will warmly welcome and ensure the security of all pilgrims and visitors who will come to the holy places in Jerusalem and in other parts of the country for the 2000 celebrations, including, first and foremost, the "First Pilgrim" – the Pope – as part of an event that will create an atmosphere of friendship and brotherhood, promoting peace in the entire world."
In a working meeting with Secretary of Relations with States of the Holy See, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Foreign Minister Sharon briefed his host on the status of the peace process with the Palestinians and Israel’s unequivocal position regarding its full sovereignty over its capital, the united city of Jerusalem. 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 immediate action in response to any unilateral Palestinian declaration regarding the establishment of a Palestinian state. Such measures, which Israel would like to avoid, will include extension of Israel’s law and administration over the territories it still holds.
Regarding bilateral issues, Foreign Minister Sharon briefed his host and expressed concern over the pressures on Christians to leave cities in the Palestinian Authority, such as Bethlehem and Beit Jala, and the fears of the Christians in eastern Jerusalem from similar attempts.
Regarding regional issues, Foreign Minister Sharon also noted the dangers and threats caused by Iran’s non-conventional and ballistic missile armament programs, and Israel’s attempt to block these efforts. The issue of the threat to the free world from the spread of radical Islam was also discussed at that meeting.
Foreign Minister Sharon also asked the Secretary to utilize the Holy See’s connections and influence to obtain information regarding the fate of the POW Navigator Ron Arad, as well as IDF MIAs Zecharia Baumel, Zvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz, from the 1982 battle of Sultan Yakoub in Lebanon.