Holy See´s Position Vis-à-vis Palestinian-Israeli Crisis

Statements of Vatican Secretary for Relations with States

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 11, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Vatican secretary for relations with states, is following events in the Holy Land closely, especially the crisis in Bethlehem. He is in constant touch with Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the papal nuncio in Israel.

The Vatican missionary agency Fides published this interview today, which Archbishop Tauran had with the I. Media news agency.

Q: On the ninth day of the siege of the Nativity Church in Bethlehem, what is the situation?

Archbishop Tauran: The problem at the basilica is a serious one, especially from a humanitarian point of view, because there are nearly 250 people, the majority armed Palestinians, along with 30 Franciscan friars, four Franciscan nuns, five Greek Orthodox monks, and nine Armenian Orthodox monks closed inside the Franciscan monastery.

The apostolic nuncio in Israel is devoting his attention to this situation. There has been talk about a Holy See plan to solve the crisis. I would prefer to speak in terms of prompt humanitarian action.

Q: What solution would you propose for the situation in Bethlehem?

Archbishop Tauran: The Holy See has no technical solutions to put forward. But we can share some ideas.

For example, we could think about setting up a joint commission, composed of Israeli and Palestinian representatives, whose sole purpose would be to negotiate the withdrawal of the people who are inside the basilica. Eventually, if the two sides so request, the Holy See could assist here, insofar as it has a certain credibility, namely, the moral authority of John Paul II.

Q: The Franciscans seem to have taken a position in favor of the Palestinians, by remaining in the monastery after the armed Palestinians arrived, out of fear that the Israeli army would kill these militants. What is the position of the Holy See?

Archbishop Tauran: The Franciscans are insisting that they are not hostages, and that they are staying in their monastery because they want to be faithful to their vocation. For centuries, the Popes have relied on them to safeguard the holy places.

Generally speaking, all the holy places of the three monotheistic religions must be regarded as inviolable. But with the Catholic sanctuaries, in particular, the tradition is reinforced by recent specific agreements, codified in international law since both the Israelis and the Palestinians have entered into bilateral agreements [with the Holy See], in which they undertake to maintain and respect the status quo regarding the Christian holy places, and the relative rights of the Christian communities.

To explain the gravity of the current situation, let me begin with the fact that the occupation of the holy places by armed men is a violation of a long tradition of law that dates back to the Ottoman era. Never before have they been occupied, for such a lengthy time, by armed men. Today we have reached a tragic situation in which both sides continue to insist that they are right. It has become a practical necessity to find a solution.

We can certainly understand that the Israeli state must respond to defend itself against terrorism. No one can justify terrorism, in any form. The problem is how to respond. Too often, the people have to pay the price. Legitimate response must be measured. It is a question of proportion between the evil to be fought and the means used against it.

The international community has repeated, many times, its desire to see these two states coexist. This is, without question, the only imaginable solution for this conflict. There is no other solution to ensure peace between the two peoples and peace throughout the region.

Q: Can you imagine the imposition of a peacekeeping force?

Archbishop Tauran: More and more, it seems necessary to have a third party involved, to help both sides to put aside the language of warfare, to look at each other, regain mutual trust, and sit down around a table. As for the eventual statute and form of this structure, it is best to leave that to jurists, because off-the-shelf juridical solutions are difficult for this region!

What is important is to have an impartial, friendly presence. I have the impression that more and more people are becoming convinced of the wisdom of that suggestion, which was put forward by the Holy See in November 2000.

Q: How is Pope John Paul II reacting to this situation?

The apostolic nunciature in Israel, and the Secretariat of State, are keeping the Pope informed, day by day, about developments.

The problems that we are discussing here have been the subjects of his constant prayer. He has, on several occasions, spelled out his position: The sides must have respect for each other and for their legitimate aspirations; the application of international law; withdrawal from the Occupied Territories; and an international statute guaranteed for all the holiest parts of Jerusalem.

These are the indispensable conditions for beginning to restore peace and breaking the infernal cycle of hatred and revenge. Quite rightly, the Pope himself told the diplomatic corps, at the beginning of the year: «One against the other, neither Israelis nor Palestinians, can win the war, but together they can win peace!»

It is also important to keep in mind that for the Holy See, diplomacy is not an end in itself. It is a means we employ so that justice and spiritual principles prevail in international life. I would also certainly add that we, as Christians, always have a duty to pray for everyone so that respect for life and the meaning of man will never be lacking.

Q: The Christians in that region are caught in crossfire, and tempted to leave their country …

Archbishop Tauran: I think we have to be realistic. When you are living a wartime situation, you cannot ask everyone to be a hero. It is clear that there is a great temptation to leave, at least for those who are able to do so. But it is the role of the bishops and priests to tell Christians that they have a vocation to remain. I think it would be terrible to have a Holy Land without Christians. Christians have been there for centuries.

In order to avoid such a situation, we have to create conditions of life that restore confidence in the future: lasting peace, decent housing, and work. And I would also add the necessity of vivifying ecclesial communion, because the Christian community, united around the Pope and the bishops, is the best antidote to despair.

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