The President of Israel and his wife, Moshe and Gila Katsav, conducted a state visit to Italy on the invitation of the President of Italy, Mr. Carlo Ciampi, and the Vatican on the invitation of Pope Benedict XVI.
On Novemer 15, 2005 President Katsav held a long working meeting with the President of the Council of Ministers of Italy, Mr. Silvio Berlusconi. The meeting took place during the luncheon given by the President of the Council of Ministers of Italy in honour of the President of Israel in which the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Gianfranco Fini, also participated.
During the discussion which lasted for over two hours the President and his host discussed the bilateral relations and means to promote them, the relations between Israel and the European Union, the situation in the Middle East, the fight against international terrorism an against anti-Semitism and the developments in Iraq and Iran.
The President of Israel described at length the events in our region and Israel’s attempts to promote the possibility of a political process. The President emphasized that only terrorism prevents progress and that the Palestinian Authority, headed by Abu Mazen, must act with determination and responsibility against the terrorist organizations, collect the arms in their possession and keep their promises to maintain one responsible authority.
The President of the Council of Ministers of Italy agreed with the President and emphasized that Israel´s security and right to protect itself cannot be an issue of disagreement. Mr. Berlusconi added that he completely agrees with the President´s statements in his address at the state dinner given in his honour by the President of Italy the previous evening, that the leaders of the free and democratic world must act together in cooperation against the threat of terror, which is a threat to the stability and security of the entire world.
The President of the Council of Ministers added that he regards Israel as part of Europe, even if it is not geographically part of it, because of its governance, culture, economy and policy and that he is pleased with the fruitful cooperation between the two countries in a very wide range of fields – political, economic, cultural, security and on international issues.
The President of Israel praised the Italian Government’s position on the Middle East and thanked the Government of Italy, under the leadership of Silvio Berlusconi, for its efforts within the Europe Union which brought about neutrality in the European policy towards the Middle East and Israel.
The President of Israel and the President of the Council of Presidents of Italy expressed great concern about Iran’s attempts to attain mass destruction weapons.
The Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Gianfranco Fini, stated that it is impossible to ignore the statements made by the President of Iran, which call for the destruction of Israel, which is also a members of the United Nations.
The President of the Council of Ministers of Italy praised the courageous decisions taken by the Government of Israel and said that Israel´s policy has gained great appreciation among the European Union countries.
On November 17, the President and his wife continued their visit to the Vatican where the President held a private meeting with Pope Benedict XVI.
The President and the Pope discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the relations between Judaism and Christianity, international terrorism and the bilateral relations. They also discussed at length the state of humanity as a whole and the use of faith as a means for terrorist acts.
At the beginning of their meeting, the Pope spoke against terrorism, violence, racism and anti-Semitism. The President and the Pope emphasized that they regard the use of faith as improper and as being contradictory to the values of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The President emphasized the need to strengthen the relations between Israel and the Vatican, especially in the cultural, political and economic fields.
The President asked Pope Benedict XVI to have members of his office prepare a catalogue of all the Judaic artefacts in the Vatican, due to their importance for Judaism and academic research. The President had made a similar request to the former Pope Paul II and had received a positive reply.
President Katsav also suggested cooperation between the Vatican, the United Nations and Israel in order to extend humanitarian assistance to the African continent, especially in the fields of health, agriculture, welfare and technology.
President Katsav presented the Pope with a facsimile of a section of Psalms from the Qumran Scrolls and a photograph of part of a mosaic of a church which was discovered in Megiddo excavations, a gift which greatly touched the Pope. The Pope presented the President with a framed copy, signed by him, of the "Nostra Aetate" decision which absolves the Jews from responsibility of the cruxification of Jesus.
Afterwards the President met with the Secretary of State of the Vatican, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, when the issues still outstanding in the negotiations between the Israeli and Vatican representatives were raised. President Katsav promised to hasten the teams in order to terminate the issues, including economic and financial agreements.
In the evening the President and his wife traveled to Milan where they met with members and leaders of the Jewish community in the central synagogue of the city.