WASHINGTON (March 9, 2000) -- Last month's diplomatic agreement between the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Holy See should not be construed as interference in the Middle East peace process, according to the chairman of the Bishops' International Policy Committee.
In a letter released today, Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston assured the Israeli Ambassador the United States that the "Basic Agreement" signed February 15 was necessitated only because of the absence of provisions protecting Christians and their shrines in the Palestinian Self-Rule Areas following Israel's hand-over of responsibility to the Palestinian Authority.
"The agreement stands in continuity with the Madrid process, the Oslo agreement and the relevant international law bearing on the bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians," Cardinal Law assured Ambassador David Ivry. "Most important, the text of the agreement does not touch the question of sovereignty or the matter of borders as they relate to Jerusalem."
Israel's Foreign Ministry had objected to language in the agreement's preamble that "unilateral decisions and actions altering the specific character and status of Jerusalem are morally and legally unacceptable." The preamble goes on to call for a "special statute for Jerusalem," a position previously stated by the Holy See and opposed by Israel.
"The position the agreement espouses is well-known to the government of Israel," Cardinal Law said. "The provisions of the proposed 'internationally guaranteed statute' would apply independent of what government holds sovereignty over the city, which is an essential part of the negotiations. On the basis of past experience, the provision seeks to address potential inequities affecting members of the three major religious communities. In that regard, they would protect all religious minorities."
The accord between the Holy See and the PLO includes articles, among others, affirming each party's respect for human rights and the followers of other religions, calling for continued interreligious dialogue, and recognizing the Catholic Church's freedom to exercise its rights in carrying out its "spiritual, religious, moral, charitable, educational, and cultural" functions and traditions.