The Vatican and Jerusalem
Pope Paul VI had visited Holy Places in Israel and the West Bank in January 1964 and had been received by the President of Israel at Megiddo, and seen off in Jerusalem. After the Six-Day War, the Vatican had mentioned its interest in the internationalisation of Jerusalem, but went on negotiating with Israel concerning the Christian Holy Places. In October 1969, Foreign Minister Eban was granted an audience by the Pope. In January 1973, the Prime Minister had an audience. Following are the official statements issued after Mrs. Meir's visit, as well as excerpts from a statement by Foreign Minister Eban, made in the Knesset on January 24, 1973, and dealing with Israel-Vatican relations:
I. Official communiqué, translated from the Italian, as published in L'Osservatore Romano.
This morning, 15 January 1973, at 12:15 hours, His Holiness Pope Paul VI received in audience Her Excellency Mrs. Golda Meir, Prime Minister of Israel, who was accompanied by the Ambassador of Israel in Italy, His Excellency Mr. Amiel E. Najjar.
The conversation, which lasted about an hour, had as its themes the situation in the Middle East and the particular problems that concern the Holy Land.
I His Holiness, after recounting the history and the sufferings of the Jewish people, expounded the point of view of the Holy See on the questions that have a major connection with its humanitarian mission, such as the problem of the refugees and the situation of the various communities that live in the Holy Land; and on those of its own more specifically religious mission insofar as concerns the Holy Places and the sacred and universal character of the City of Jerusalem.
The Prime Minister emphasised Israel's wish for peace, and fully illustrated Israel's position on the possibilities of arriving at a peaceful solution of the Middle Eastern conflict through negotiation between the parties and on the questions mentioned above; and, furthermore, alluded to the phenomenon of terrorism as well as particular situations regarding the Jewish communities in certain parts of the world.
His Holiness, finally, in expressing his fervent wish that it shall be justice and right that establish peace and co-existence among all the peoples of the Middle East, once more manifested the intention of the Holy See to do everything within its possibilities to achieve that end.
II. Excerpts from a Government statement in the Knesset on the political situation, made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs on 24 January 1973.
In October 1969, the Vatican issued an official communiqué on the occasion of the meeting between the Pope and myself. It used these words: "The Holy Father listened attentively to all that the Minister told him concerning Israel's efforts to achieve the peace that he so yearns for, and with regard to the situation of the Jews remaining in Arab lands, as well as other problems of a humanitarian nature."
The spirit of these words encouraged us to pursue our contacts, and a letter in which the Vatican affirmed to us the Pope's wish to meet the Prime Minister prompted us to take the opportunity of raising the dialogue to the highest possible level.
... The resulting discussion, frank and sincere, took place in an atmosphere of goodwill and mutual respect. The Pope expressed his esteem for the person of the Prime Minister as well as for the Jewish people, which he regards as so "devoted to its roots and its tradition." He re-affirmed his profound gratitude for Israel's faithful care of the Holy Places.
He declared his appreciation of the Prime Minister's announcement of our willingness that the Christian Holy Places be administered by Christians and the Moslem Holy Places by Moslems. He reacted with satisfaction to Israel's readiness, as made known by the Prime Minister, to permit a college to be set up in Jerusalem to give expectancy and prestige to its Christian community. He renewed his hope of seeing "a recognised status for the Holy Places" and his view that Jerusalem possessed a special universal character, that its beauty must be preserved. At the same time, it was emphasised that his words in this context carry no hint of "internationalisation". The Pope, finally, said that he was prepared to foster and encourage the dialogue.
All this, after he had heard the Prime Minister's comprehensive clarification of Israel's stand and the historical and spiritual factors determining its policy.
... There were reservations in certain sections of the Press, and not only abroad; but they are fated to be consigned to limbo. The fact of the meeting itself, in an ambience of dignity and mutual respect, will be engraved for ever in the memory of Israel and Jewry and in the thought of all nations.
Source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs