Tuesday, August 02, 2005

What they're sayin' on the other side of the fence

I've been reading quite a lot about the current Israel-Vatican spat and haven't really seen any original commentary about it, anywhere -- and don't really have any to add. It seems fairly clear that whether or not the Vatican maliciously left Israel out, its defensive rationale after the fact was completely unacceptable and holds Israel to completely unique and unfair standards; that, with a new pope in town, Israel saw this as an opportunity to re-'negotiate' the Vatican's stance towards Israel; that both sides massively overplayed their hands and allowed this to get completely out of control -- 'diplomacy' never came into it.
However, there is one angle/conspiracy theory which Christian-oriented blogs are playing up and which hasn't been noticed at all (as far as I can see) in the Jewish blogosphere:
AsiaNews has learnt that the unprecedented personal attack on Pope Benedict XVI launched by Israel's Foreign Ministry on Monday 25 July was meant as a smokescreen for the Ministry's decision to abandon the negotiations with the Holy See planned for the same day.
These negotiations, explicitly mandated by Israel's 1993 Fundamental Agreement with the Holy See - the international treaty that is the "magna carta" of all relations between the Jewish State and the Catholic Church - have the purpose of achieving a new treaty to confirm the Church's centuries' old tax exemptions and property ights, which have been eroded by the State since its establishment.
The negotiations began officially on 11 March 1999. However, in recent years Israel has been reluctant even to meet the Holy See to negotiate, and on 28 August 2003, the Israeli delegation abandoned the negotiations altogether, and only came back to the table a year later in response to pressure from the Church and the Government of the United States.
After agreeing to very few meetings in 2005, Israel agreed to meet on 19 July, only to cancel the meeting at the last moment, and have it transferred to 25 July. Apparently Israeli officials feared the consequences of cancelling this meeting too at the very last moment, so they contrived to find fault with the papal Angelus address to cover up their non-compliance with their treaty obligation to negotiate with the Holy See.
Recently Vatican officials have spoken openly of Israel's persistent failure to comply with any of its treaty obligations vis-a-vis the Holy See. Neither the 1993 Fundamental Agreement nor the1997 "Legal Personality Agreement" has been made into Israeli law, and last year the Government officially informed Israel's Supreme Court that it did not regard itself bound by the Fundamental Agreement at all. In spite of the protests from the Holy See, this position has not changed.
I don't know enough about these negotiations to properly comment, although I find it unlikely that Israel, having (apparently) successfully delayed negotiations since 2003, needed to engineer such an enormous crisis to get out of one more meeting (wouldn't 'the dog ate my negotiation papers' have been simpler?). You never know, though.
One point to make is that the fact that this has provoked comment and concern in the Xn world but virtually no one in the Jewish world picked up on this shows how little each side still understands about the other's priorities (true about everything regarding this crisis).
Another is that Israel should do whatever it must to foster good relations with the Vatican and indeed with all other religions, and to treat members of other religions with respect and fairness -- and therefore I hope that it does fulfill all its obligations under this agreement. However, the same applies to the other side as well. From the Jewish point of view, I see that two of the clauses of the fundamental agreement are that
  • The Holy See and the State of Israel are committed to appropriate cooperation in combatting all forms of antisemitism and all kinds of racism and of religious intolerance, and in promoting mutual understanding among nations, tolerance among communities and respect for human life and dignity.
  • The Holy See takes this occasion to reiterate its condemnation of hatred, persecution and all other manifestations of antisemitism directed against the Jewish people and individual Jews anywhere, at any time and by anyone.
    And even more than this:
    The Church recognizes the right of the State to carry out its functions, such as promoting and protecting the welfare and the safety of the people
    -- which, from the Israeli point of view, would include "immediate Israeli reactions" to terror attacks that the Vatican, as it admitted this week, apparently finds so objectionable. The three clauses together would seem to cover the Vatican's obligation to condemn terrorism against Israelis.
    So I guess both sides have cause to complain about the terms of the agreement being ignored and that Israel isn't the only party trying to get out of some of the clauses. The Vatican's own actions this week were a direct violation. So if Christian blogs are going to use this document to attack Israel and undermine its concerns vis a vis the Vatican's anti-Israel attitudes, it should be duly noted that the tables can be turned....

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