George A. Sprecace M.D.,
J.D., F.A.C.P. and Allergy Associates of New
What's Happening With Israel-Vatican Relations
Interview With Father David Jaeger
By Mariaelena Finessi
ROME, JAN. 20, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Some consider
Jewish-Vatican relations to be in a moment of crisis, but according to
one expert on the matter, negotiations are not at all at a standstill.
Father David Maria Jaeger, Franciscan friar of the
Custody of the Holy Land and a professor of canon law in Rome, is a
renowned expert on Church-State legal relations in the Holy Land. For
over 30 years, he has studied the "question of Jerusalem" at the level
of international law.
In this interview with ZENIT, Father Jaeger explains
the complex journey that the Holy See and Israel have undertaken after
the signing of the Fundamental Agreement of 1993.
ZENIT: Benedict XVI returned last week to the topic of
the Middle East, confirming Israel's right to exist and to enjoy peace,
and the equal right of the Palestinian people to a sovereign homeland,
to live in dignity in addition to being able to move freely. "I would
also like to request the support of everyone for the protection of the
identity and sacred character of Jerusalem, and of its cultural and
religious heritage, which is of universal value," the Pontiff added.
Father Jaeger, how can the sacred character of this city be protected?
Father Jaeger: Toward the end of the last decade, more
precisely in 1999, a "working group" put together by several European
governments, studied (among other things) a project of Christian
origin, which provided to this end a multilateral treaty. Several
states traditionally interested in the Holy Land would have adhered to
this treaty, in addition to Israel and the established Palestinian
State. It was called "The Jerusalem and Environs Multilateral Treaty."
The treaty would have created a respective multilateral organization,
which would have been called "The Jerusalem and Environs Multilateral
The fundamental values that such a treaty and related
organization would have safeguarded would, hence, have been essentially
the same successively proclaimed in the Preamble of the "Basic
Agreement" between the Holy See and the PLO, the organization that
represents the Palestinian people on the international plane.
Essentially it would guarantee: liberty of conscience and religion for
all; the legal equality of the three great monotheistic religions, of
their institutions and of their followers; respect for the particular
character of the city of Jerusalem and its environs; likewise it would
safeguard the Holy Places and the legal regime called "status quo"
which applies to some of them.
For what my opinion is worth, I believe that such a
multilateral treaty, backed by a proper organization, could truly be
the best way and should have no difficulty in being embraced both by
the Israelis and by the Palestinians, in addition to the international
community, because it is to the advantage of all.
ZENIT: There is still no solution between Israel and
the Holy See regarding the Fundamental Agreement of 1993. The
negotiations for the implementations of the points regarding the
Church's fiscal regime and the questions of property came to a
standstill precisely on the Holy Places. What are the real issues that
for 17 years have impeded the solution of the controversy?
Father Jaeger: As is known, the Fundamental Agreement
was signed on Dec. 30, 1993, and came into force March 10, 1994. It was
followed by the agreement on the recognition of the civil effects of
ecclesiastical legal personality, signed on Nov. 10, 1997, which came
into force on Feb. 3, 1999. Still lacking is the enactment of the
agreements in Israel's internal legislation, which means that they both
certainly have value on the level of international law, but
difficulties would inevitably be found in having them enforced by the
It is known moreover that the negotiations on the
implementation of Article 10.2 of the Fundamental Agreement, with a
comprehensive agreement on all the fiscal and property issues pending
between the Church and State, were opened on March 11, 1999. The
[negotiations] have clearly gone on far beyond the two years foreseen
by the Fundamental Agreement, but it cannot be said that they have come
to a "standstill." In fact, the most recent joint communiqué at
the end of a [negotiating] session was issued precisely this month,
Insofar as the detailed contents of the work, the
Bilateral Commission -- the "vehicle" or "place" of the negotiations --
generally does not give out information, in part because such
information would be meaningless: It would be altogether useless to say
that there was "agreement" on this or that question, because in
negotiations of this nature the principle stands "nothing is agreed
until everything is agreed."
In this way, among other things, the rights are
protected better on which the Parties rely. It is evident, in fact,
that until the hoped for agreement is concluded, the Church will not
give up, and will not even put in question, the rights acquired before
the creation of the state (in 1948), and which the state has many times
and in so many ways promised to observe.
ZENIT: Given the failure to reach such an agreement, at
the end of the plenary session of the Bilateral Working Commission
between the Holy See and Israel -- which met in December in the Vatican
-- the head of the Israeli delegation, Daniel Alayon, vice-minister of
Foreign Affairs, spoke of a "crisis" in the negotiations and of a "step
backward" so much so that "all the conclusions reached before the
meeting were in fact annulled." What does this mean and what,
therefore, is the situation today?
Father Jaeger: We cannot speak of a "failure to reach
such an agreement" because in any case it was an interlocutory meeting,
simply another stage of negotiations. No informed person -- even only
generically -- thought that that would be the conclusive meeting!
Insofar as the alleged statements attributed by an
Israeli daily to the vice minister, it was immediately evident that
they were for internal use and consumption, to calm the fundamentalist
circles that, not informed of the facts, feared some pact with "the
Vatican," which would have been contrary to that which they held to be
principles and interests of the Jewish State.
Anyone present at the start of the work of the Holy
See-Israel Bilateral Commission in 1992 is able to attest that there
was a sort of "gentlemen's agreement": that every now and then one or
another party would perceive the need to make some public statement to
satisfy its own "political" needs, without thereby influencing the
bilateral relationship. Then again, there were also public statements
on the Israeli side of a very different sort. The well-known rabbi
David Rosen, already an important member of the Israeli delegation to
the negotiations -- precisely in the "constituent" phase -- asserted,
in a very recent interview, published in the English online version of
the most influential Israeli daily HaAretz, on Jan. 17 [the day of the
Holy Father's visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome] that Israel -- in
his words -- has not been faithful to the pacts of 1993, in not having
yet agreed to confirm as a whole all the rights acquired by the Church
in fiscal matters, as on the other hand Israel had promised to do -- he
says -- when diplomatic relations with the Holy See were established
(already in 1994).
ZENIT: Daniel Alayon still confirmed a clear "interest
to dialogue" with the Holy See, above all on topics such as
"anti-Semitism, terrorism, Muslim fundamentalism." In what way can the
Church help Israel in relation to such phenomena?
Father Jaeger: The reciprocal commitment of
"appropriate cooperation in combatting all forms of anti-Semitism and
all kinds of racism and of religious intolerance " is inscribed in the
Fundamental Agreement (1993) itself, in Article 2.1, and, in fact,
Catholics and Jews everywhere are united in this peaceful struggle.
Similarly, the same Agreement, in Article 11.1, contains this
declaration of the respective commitment of the two Parties: "The Holy
See and the State of Israel declare their respective commitment to the
promotion of the peaceful resolution of conflicts among States and
nations, excluding violence and terror from international life."
ZENIT: For Jerusalem, you have recently put on the
table the idea of an "internationally recognized special statute,"
holding that Israel and Palestine are not competent to decide on
Jerusalem, until the United Nations has verified respect for the
objectives indicated by the international community. Why does the Holy
See still today hold that this is the best solution for Jerusalem?
Father Jaeger: It is not in the least "my" idea that
Israelis and Palestinians cannot decide at present on Jerusalem, either
separately or even jointly. Instead, this is the condition of the
territory according to international law, as manifested objectively,
among other things, by the constant presence in Jerusalem of General
Consulates of "corpus separatum," never accredited to any state, but
eloquent witnesses of the situation de iure, unchanged since the U.N.
Resolution (181 of Nov. 29, 1947, the same one which authorized the
creation of the Jewish State and of the yet future Palestinian State),
which destined Jerusalem to international administration, as the
"place" of rights and legitimate interests that belong to large world
communities and that do not come simply from the two bordering nations.
Now, in the context of the search for a comprehensive
resolution to the situations in the Holy Land that are not at present
in conformity with international law, it is evident that also -- and
first of all -- the condition of the territory of Jerusalem must be
regulated. The many declarations in this regard from the Holy See over
the course of the decades, make one think -- and this certainly is an
interpretation of mine as a jurist -- that Israelis and Palestinians
should adhere to a multilateral treaty -- perhaps more or less like the
plan described above -- which guarantees the universal values
represented in Jerusalem, so that consequently, with the endorsement of
the United Nations, the Israelis and the Palestinians may be authorized
to decide, through a bilateral peace treaty, on the territory itself.
The Palestinians seem to be already committed to agree to such a path,
or at least this would be my reading of the Preamble of the Basic
Agreement which they signed with the Holy See on Feb. 15, 2000. Hence,
there should be no reason why Israel cannot also accept it, if it
should be invited concretely to do so. In fact, it would be in favor of
all and against no one, a classic "win-win" [situation], where, that
is, all parties "win," as is said in the world of business.
ZENIT: A special statute for the city implies -- as you
yourself have reminded -- the coming into force of an international
legal instrument that would control an Israeli-Palestinian bilateral
agreement. Specifically, how do you think such an instrument can
safeguard the Status Quo regime of the Holy Places? How should it work?
Father Jaeger: This, in fact, would be the easiest part
of such an "internationally guaranteed special statute" for Jerusalem
and its environs, especially if it follows the lines of the
above-mentioned draft of the Multilateral Treaty with the respective
organization to make it work.
In fact, the "status quo" legal regime in force for
specific Holy Places provides for the pro tempore civil government to
watch over its regular observance, being in charge of security and
public order in those particular Holy Places. Thus, in addition to the
re-confirmation in the treaty of the international legal force of this
legal regime, it would be for the respective multilateral organization
to assume these secular burdens through its own personnel, equipped
also with the necessary powers to maintain public order.
Thus these few but very important Holy Places (think of
the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem) would be removed from the interests
and political calculations of the local states or of any individual