Israel and Vatican To Establish Ties Before Year Ends
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israel and the Vatican will establish diplomatic relations by the end of the year, an Israeli foreign ministry official said Monday.
Eitan Margalit, the Israeli official in charge of talks with the Vatican, confirmed news reports that an agreement would be signed by Dec. 30. He would not specify a date.
Margalit said an initial exchange of low-level diplomats would expand to a full-scale exchange of ambassadors within several months.
The Vatican and Israel have been negotiating for 18 months over several issues, including Vatican properties in the Holy Land and the status of Christians in Israel.
Israel had criticized the Vatican’s refusal to recognize Israel as reflecting a pro-Arab tilt. The Vatican said its decision stemmed from Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, a desire not to offend Arab states with Christian minorities, and theological problems with Jewish statehood.
In Vatican City, meanwhile, Pope John Paul II accepted an invitation Monday to visit South Africa, reflecting another shift his papal policy.
The invitation was made by South African President F.W. de Klerk, who met with the pontiff Monday after accepting the Nobel Peace Prize last week in Norway with Nelson Mandela, president of the African National Congress.
John Paul, who had turned down similar invitations previously, accepted to acknowledge the steps to bring multiracial democracy to South Africa, the Vatican said.
Vatican officials said the trip could take place late next year.