PRESS BRIEFING BY DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER YOSSI BEILIN
JERUSALEM, JUNE 15, 1994
DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER YOSSI BEILIN: I am very glad to announce this morning, simultaneously with the Vatican, full diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel, as of today. In both states, we will have full embassies, and the ambassadors will begin their functions once there is the ‘agrement’ on both sides.
In this very room, we signed the Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and Israel on December 30, 1993. One of the main issues on our agenda during the one and a half years of negotiations was the question of diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Israel.
There were many skeptics who said that it would be very difficult, maybe even impossible, to have full diplomatic relations with the Vatican as long as do not have comprehensive peace in the Middle East. The suggestions on the Vatican side, during those years, were of exchanging representatives on the level of ambassadors who represent the heads of the state or the governments, while Israel insisted upon having full, normal diplomatic relations between the two countries.
In the Fundamental Agreement, which was signed six months ago, we agreed to exchange immediately representatives of government of the rank of ambassadors, and that we did already. We also agreed informally to have full diplomatic relations no later than four months after the ratification of the agreement on both sides, and with the beginning of the implementation of the Fundamental Agreement.
Yesterday, Archbishop Montezemlo and myself signed the agreement on behalf of the Holy See and Israel to exchange full ambassadors between the two states and to establish two sub-commissions: one on the legal issues – the juridical commission; and the economic commission. They will deal both with the status of the Catholic Church in Israel and with the economic issues, taxes, duties and so on. Those issues are very complicated, they include many details, and the expectation is that they will have to negotiate about two years from now. The head of the economic commission is Dr. Ehud Kaufman, and the head of the juridical commission is Mr. Zvi Terlo.
My assumption is that the criticism of the Vatican on the signing of the agreement was much less than expected by the Vatican itself, and that there are already very important fruits of the agreement between the two states. One very interesting one is that we are going to have the first exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Vatican itself this month, on June 29, and that will be the first exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Europe.
RABBI DAVID ROSEN (Member of Israel-Vatican negotiating committee): Thank you to Deputy Foreign Minister Dr. Beilin for the privilege of being able to say a few words to you about the significance of this event. As one who has been involved in other areas that relate to relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people, it has been a special privilege for me to be part of this delegation that has negotiated the full normalization of diplomatic relations between the State of Israel and the Holy See. I think one could call that the real summit of those changes that have taken place in a process of 30 years since the promulgation of a document coming out of the Second Vatican Council called ‘Nostra Etate:, which really was a revolution in terms of the Church’s attitude towards the Jewish people.
From our perspective, until there was a real normalization with the State of Israel, there was always a question mark over how genuine and complete that revolution really was. Because Israel is central not just to the identity of the Jewish people that lives in the State of Israel, but to Jews wherever they are throughout the world. That is why this agreement now and the exchange of ambassadors, and thus the full process of normalization that we are celebrating today, has significance not only for the State of Israel but for the Jewish world as a whole. It will affect the way Jews are viewed within the Catholic world, it will affect the way Jews feel that they are viewed within the Catholic world. Of course, this significant commitment on the part of the Holy See to fighting anti-semitism and working together with Israel to that end will impact, I think, in a way of great consequence upon the interests of the Jewish people throughout the world.
Dr. Beilin, when he spoke at the signing at the end of December, referred to the signing as a triumph for Zionism and for the Jewish people, and I don’t think there is any more eloquent way of describing its significance as really a very historic event in a very historic year.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Q: In this context, we hear that there was a document drafted by Catholic officials in Germany which acknowledged Catholic guilt for 2,000 years of anti-semitism, and the Holy See distanced itself from this. To what extent does the Catholic Church acknowledge this kind of responsibility? Also, you talked about a change of attitude. Will this filter down to Catholic priests in many places in the world who we hear today are still preaching anti-semitism? Lastly, are these reservations of the Holy See reflected on the fact that they were not keen on you yourself, a rabbi, as Israeli ambassador?
RABBI ROSEN: With regard to your last question, I am not in a position to give you any information whatsoever. This was speculation, and therefore I am not the address for such an inquiry.
With regards to your second question, I think that you can see the effect of even the visit of the Pope to the synagogue in Rome, quite demonstrably in the way it affects Catholic attitudes even in areas where there are no Jews, like in South America. In many Catholic countries, there was a great recognition of the significance of this accord, and I think that clearly filters down in terms of attitudes.
With regards to you first question, I am very glad of the opportunity to make things clear, because they were distorted in initial reportage. At the meeting here between the representatives of the Vatican Commission for Relations with the Jews, which is not with states but with the Jewish people, that took place for the first time here in Jerusalem with representatives of the Jewish people, there was a report on a draft document that had been commissioned by the Vatican.
The origins of this document go back to the Pope’s commitment in 1987 in Miami to produce a document on the Shoah, anti-semitism and the Church. This was his commitment. In 1990, the Commission for Relations with the Jews commissioned Prof. Henricks of Aachen to form a working committee to produce that document. At this meeting here in Jerusalem, we received a report on the draft of the working committee working for the Commission for Relations with the Jews. This was portrayed internationally as if there was already a document that had been formulated. This therefore led the Vatican to try to clarify that this was only a report on a draft. People then reported that as if the Vatican was distancing itself from it, which is not the case. It was simply trying to put things within context. So, to cut a long story short, this is another very important step in a very constructive process, but we don’t have to expect that everything automatically happens overnight.
Q: (On the possibility of a visit by the Pope to the region; and on the location of the Vatican embassy.)
DEPUTY FM BEILIN: As the question of a possible visit of the Pope in this region, I don’t have any information further than the information which was already given in the past about a general intention to follow the steps of Abraham. Since then, and that was several months ago, there was nothing new about it.
Speaking about the embassy, I presume that it will be located in Jaffa, but most of the affairs of the new ambassador have been and will be in Jerusalem.
Q: (On the question of responsibility over the Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.)
DEPUTY FM BEILIN: As to the first question about whom are we going to deal with when we speak about the holy places in Jerusalem, it will not be the Palestinians only. It will be the representatives of all the other religions. That was clarified. Despite the fact that the Vatican did not refer to the letter which was published last week from our Foreign Minister Mr. Peres to the late Norwegian Foreign Minister about Jerusalem, there is an interest on the part of the Holy See to be part of the religious solution for Jerusalem when this issue is on the agenda for the permanent solution.
Q: (On the plan for quarters in Jerusalem)
DEPUTY FM BEILIN: Speaking about the self-administration in Jerusalem, I believe that if we want to implement our plan for Jerusalem, which means that Jerusalem will never be redivided and will be under Israeli sovereignty, with one municipality, it will be vital for us to take into consideration the special interests of the Palestinians who live in Jerusalem. One of the ideas which may serve this objective is the self-administration, an idea which was suggested by Teddy Kollek about six years ago in an article in ‘Foreign Affairs’.
Q: Can we say that from now on you recognize the role of the Vatican on the future of the city, and did you already talk about a plan which looks like being now issued by the Vatican about the possibility of international supervision, with the Vatican, on the Old City only?
DEPUTY FM BEILIN: I wouldn’t subscribe to what you said about acknowledging the role of the Vatican, but what we can say is that we registered the wish of the Vatican to take place in the talks about the future of the holy places, and we acknowledge of course that there is an interest of the Christians, and among them of the Catholic Church, speaking about the holy places of Jerusalem.
Q: I would like to ask whether there are any side letters concerning the agreement with the Vatican that will not be made public or have not been made public, and I refer especially to Jerusalem? Did the Vatican know, for example, of the Holst letter?
DEPUTY FM BEILIN: No, the Vatican did not know about the Holst letter, despite the fact that, as you know, it wasn’t a secret and it wasn’t a secret letter. There are no side letters to the agreement with the Vatican whatsoever – not about Jerusalem, not about Haifa, and not about Tel Aviv.
On Israel-PLO negotiations and Jerusalem:
Q: Nabil Sha’ath yesterday in Cairo before leaving for Gaza declared that Jerusalem will be the future capital of the Palestinian state. Would you comment on that?
DEPUTY FM BEILIN: I can comment on it very simply: There is no agreement which prevents Nabil Sha’ath, or any other Palestinian leader, from dreaming. He has all the rights in the world to dream about a Palestinian state and about Jerusalem and whatever. Eventually, there is only one agreement, and it refers to the issues which will be on the agenda for the permanent solution, a solution about which we are going to negotiate two years from now, the latest. Jerusalem will be on the agenda. Our view about Jerusalem is very clear. We will be against any division of Jerusalem. Jerusalem should be under Israel’s sovereignty as one city and one municipality.
Q: It seems at this point that there is no way this gap can be bridged. What happens today will happen in two years time. What kind of an agreement are you talking about?
DEPUTY FM BEILIN: One thing is for sure – it won’t be bridged by announcements and declarations. It will be solved, and I am sure that generally speaking there is a solution and there will be solution for the Palestinian problem. But it can be done only around the table and not by such declarations. I do not believe that such declarations are going to contribute anything to the ability to bridge the different views. But I do not agree that this problem is insurmountable or unbridgeable.
Q: I believe the negotiations were scheduled to start in Cairo this month on the next phase, on the economy. Is there something holding this up? Is this linked to Arafat’s arrival? And when do you expect this next phase to begin?
DEPUTY FM BEILIN: I don’t know about a specific date. I am sure that it is not linked to any visit by Yasser Arafat. There is a big question about the nature of the next step, because there are at least two alternatives.
One is negotiating about early empowerment, which means referring to five authorities out of about 19 which will be implemented in those areas in the West Bank which are not part of the autonomy, namely Gaza and Jericho.
Another option is to have elections in the occupied territories. According to the Oslo Agreement, the Palestinians of course have the right to have elections and to negotiate with us about the modalities of the elections. We thought even about elections in July. That of course will not take place. But if there are elections, then a council will be elected and the full autonomy will be extended to the whole of the West Bank and Gaza. So the question today is: are the Palestinians going to have elections, or are they just going to have early empowerment? That is something to be dealt with in the very near future. I presume that even if they are going to have elections in the future, and there is no date for that yet, we should speak about early empowerment before.
Q: I would like to ask you about the reports that Saudi Arabia has been funding the HAMAS movement, and what does it mean in terms of if they joined forces with the Syrians in order to oppose the peace process?
DEPUTY FM BEILIN: It wasn’t a secret for us. It was known for years that Saudis financed the HAMAS groups. Whenever Saudi authorities were approached about this in the last years, even before the Oslo Agreement, even before the Madrid process, they said that as a government they don’t do that, but only private individuals are perhaps financing the HAMAS and they cannot prevent it. I would always accept such an answer with a grain of salt.
On the Human Rights Watch report:
Q: The Human Rights Watch came out with a report saying that since the Oslo agreement, the systematic torture of Palestinians has continued, with the tacit approval of the Israeli government. What is your reaction to this?
DEPUTY FM BEILIN: I did not read the report. I can only say something very general about it. I do not believe that there is anywhere a benevolent occupier. I do not believe that Israel has been a benevolent occupier. I am sure that during the occupation of the territories there were deeds which are regrettable, and that the only way to put an end to it is to withdraw eventually as a part of the permanent solution from most of the territories. That is my hope, and I sure that it will be implemented eventually.
I am not aware of the details. I cannot refute such allegations without getting to the details of those allegations. What I can say is that the whole question of human rights should be dealt with in the framework of the permanent solution. I have one hope: that after our withdrawal, the Palestinians themselves will stick very much to their own human rights.