Jerusalem: Considerations of the Secretariat of State

Author: STATE


1. The fundamental agreement between the Holy See and the state of Israel was signed on Dec. 30, 1993. In Article 11.2 of the agreement we find the same basic concept that appears in Article 24 of the Lateran Treaty, which was an agreement between the Holy See and the Italian state signed on Feb. 11, 1929 [ending a long controversy arising out of the occupation of Rome in 1870]. Paragraph 2 of Article 11 of the fundamental agreement says: "The Holy See ... is solemnly committed to remaining a stranger to all merely temporal conflicts, which principle applies specifically to disputed territories and unsettled borders."

This statement has given rise to a number of critical observations, especially when reference is being made to the status of Jerusalem. In part these reservations may be due to the fact that few people have paid proper attention to the first part of the same Paragraph 2 of Article 11, where it says that the Holy See maintains "in every case the right to exercise its moral and spiritual teaching office."

2. On the same day that the agreement was signed, the Press Office of the Holy See publicly presented a detailed official statement which included, among other things, an explanation of the meaning of Article 11.2. The statement said that the Holy See would not get involved in territorial problems as far as strictly technical aspects were concerned, but it would not renounce its mission or its right to express its judgment on the moral dimensions that each of these questions necessarily entails.

3. The same statement made a specific reference to the question of Jerusalem and affirmed:

—That questions relative to the city of Jerusalem have been a cause of concern for the Holy See for a long time.

—That these questions are not mentioned in the agreement because of their international and multilateral character, which prevents their being resolved by the fundamental agreement, which by its nature is bilateral, binding only the two parties which signed it.

—That these questions remain important for the Holy See, which has not changed its position on them (a position which the statement then proceeds to illustrate).

I. Analysis of the Question

1. There exists a territorial problem relative to Jerusalem. Since 1967, when a part of the city was militarily occupied and then annexed, this problem has become more obvious and more difficult. The part of the city that was occupied and annexed is where most of the holy places of the three monotheistic religions are situated.

The Holy See has always insisted that this territorial question should be resolved equitably and by negotiation. The Holy See, as the previously mentioned Article 11 of the fundamental agreement indicates, is not concerned with the question of how many square meters or kilometers constitute the disputed territory, but it does have the right-a right which it exercises—to express a moral judgment on the situation.

It is obvious that every territorial dispute involves ethical considerations such as the right of national communities to self-determination, the right of communities to preserve their own identity, the right of all people to equality before the law and in the distribution of resources, the right not to be discriminated against by reason of ethnic origin or religious affiliation, etc.

The Holy See's attitude with regard to the territorial situation of Jerusalem is necessarily the same as that of the international community. The latter could be summarized as follows: The part of the city militarily occupied in 1967 and subsequently annexed and declared the capital of the state of Israel is occupied territory, and all Israeli measures which exceed the power of a belligerent occupant under international law are therefore null and void. In particular, this same position was expressed and is still expressed by Resolution 478 of the U.N. Security Council, adopted on Aug. 20, 1980, which declared the Israeli "basic law" concerning Jerusalem to be "null and void," and which invited countries with embassies in Jerusalem to move them elsewhere.

As is well known, when the Holy See entered into diplomatic relations with the state of Israel, it opened its nunciature (embassy) in Tel Aviv, where indeed the overwhelming majority of the embassies are situated. It is also well known that the apostolic delegation for Jerusalem and Palestine (opened on Feb. 11, 1948, before the state of Israel was established) continues to function.

2. There is, however, a further aspect of Jerusalem which in the Holy See's view goes well beyond the simple territorial aspect: This is the "religious dimension" of the city, the particular value which it has for the Jewish, Christian and Muslim believers who live there, and for Jewish, Christian and Muslim believers throughout the world.

It is a question here of a value which must be considered as having a worldwide and universal character: Jerusalem is a "treasure of the whole of humanity."

For decades and long before the 1967 occupation, the Holy See has always been very attentive to this aspect and has not failed to intervene when necessary, insisting on the need for adequate measures to protect the singular identity of the holy city. An explanation of what this protection consists of and what characteristics it must have in order to meet its objectives can be outlined as follows in II, 2.

a) With a view to safeguarding the universal character of a city already claimed by two peoples (Arab and Jewish) and held sacred by three religions, the Holy See supported the proposal for the internationalization of the territory, the <corpus separatum> called for by U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181 (II) of Nov. 29, 1947. The Holy See at the time considered the <corpus separatum> as an adequate means, a useful juridical instrument, for preventing Jerusalem from becoming a cause and arena of conflict, with the resulting loss of an important aspect of its identity (as in fact subsequently happened and continues to happen).

b) In the years that followed, although the objective of internationalization was shown to be unattainable, the Holy See—especially, but not only through public statements of the popes—continued to call for the protection of the holy city's identity. It consistently drew attention to the need for an international commitment in this regard. To this end, the Holy See has consistently called for an international juridical instrument: which is what is meant by the phrase <an internationally guaranteed special statute.>

c) Following the well-known events of 1967 and their aftermath, the Holy See's concern has not waned, but has become ever more insistent. Documented proof of this concern can be found in Archbishop Edmond Farhat's collection of documents titled <Jerusalem in Papal Documents from 1887 to 1984> published in Rome in 1987. This valuable work has also been translated into Arabic and published in Lebanon.

Among these documents the following can be listed as examples for their comprehensiveness and clarity:

—The address of Pope Paul VI to the cardinals and prelates of the Roman Curia on Dec. 22, 1967.

—The statement distributed at the United Nations by the Holy See's Permanent Observer Mission on Dec. 3, 1979.

—The article which appeared in the June 30-July 1, 1980, edition of L'Osservatore Romano.

II. Clarification of Some Concepts

1. It is important to note that in its interventions the Holy See has always insisted on yet another question which, given the particular situation of Jerusalem, is of fundamental importance precisely for safeguarding the identity of the Holy City: Jerusalem is equally regarded as sacred by the three great monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In other words, no unilateral claim made in the name of one or other of these religions or by reason of historical precedence or numerical preponderance is acceptable. Jerusalem is a unique reality, universal because of its sacredness as a whole and for the three religions.

This was clearly underscored by His Holiness Pope John Paul II in his apostolic letter <Redemptionis Anno> of April 20, 1984. There he writes:

"Jews ardently love [Jerusalem] and in every age venerate her memory, abundant as she is in many remains and monuments from the time of David, who chose her as the capital, and of Solomon, who built the temple there. Therefore they turn their minds to her daily, one may say, and point to her as the sign of their nation...."

"Christians honor her with a religious and intent concern because there the words of Christ so often resounded, there the great events of the redemption were accomplished: the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord. In the city of Jerusalem the first Christian community sprang up and remained throughout the centuries a continual ecclesial presence despite difficulties...."

"Muslims also call Jerusalem 'holy,' with a profound attachment that goes back to the origins of Islam and spring from the fact that they have there many special places of pilgrimage and for more than a thousand years have dwelt there, almost without interruption."

2. It would also seem important and fundamental to explain what the Holy See means by <safeguarding the identity> of Jerusalem and what it means by <guarantees.> In the Holy See's view:

—The historical and material characteristics of the city as well as its religious and cultural characteristics must be preserved, and perhaps today it is necessary to speak of restoring and safeguarding those still existing.

—There must be equality of rights and treatment for those belonging to the communities of the three religions found in the city, in the context of the freedom of spiritual, cultural, civic and economic activities.

—The holy places situated in the city must be preserved, and the rights of freedom of religion and worship, and of access for residents and pilgrims alike, whether from the Holy Land itself or from other parts of the world, must be safeguarded.

At stake is the basic question of preserving and protecting the identity of the holy city in its entirety, in every aspect. For example, the simple "extraterritoriality" of the holy places, with the assurance that pilgrims would be able to visit them without hindrance, would not suffice. The identity of the city includes a sacred character which belongs not just to the individual sites or monuments, as if these could be separated from one another or isolated from the respective communities. The sacred character involves Jerusalem in its entirety, its holy places and its communities.

III. Situation After the Oslo Agreements

The Oslo agreements between the Israelis and the Palestinians called for a second stage, in which some particularly delicate and difficult problems would be dealt with. These include the whole question of Jerusalem. From this perspective the Holy See, firmly maintaining its position, together with the requirements that follow from it, believes that certain considerations can be formulated:

1. It is foreseen that negotiations will take place. The promise of negotiations and the presumption that they will take place are already in themselves a positive development, but only a beginning. The Holy See can only hope that the intentions expressed by the parties most directly involved will become a reality.

The Holy See is ready to offer its support in this regard, in accordance with the possibilities open to it and its specific character.

2. As they are now prospected, the negotiations are expected to include the participation of the sponsors of the peace process and, in the light of statements made in the last few months, other parties also could be invited to contribute.

The Holy See believes in the importance of extending representation at the negotiating table, precisely in order to ensure that the negotiations themselves are fair and that no aspect of the problem is overlooked.

3. It is essential that the parties to the negotiations take fair and appropriate account of the sacred and universal character of the city. This requires that any possible solution should have the support of the three religions, both at the local level and beyond, and that the international community should in some way be involved.

4. In effect, the territorial and religious dimensions of the problem, although often separated in order to facilitate proper and thorough discussions of the situation, are interrelated. They are such that a political solution will not be valid unless it takes into account in a profound and just manner the religious needs present in the city. This the Holy See has often stressed. These are needs stemming from history, but above all they are needs of today; they concern, before all else, the full observance of that most fundamental of human rights, the right to freedom of religion and conscience.

IV. Conclusions

The patriarchs and the other Christian religious leaders in Jerusalem on Nov. 14, 1994, issued a memorandum on the holy city. In the final part of their document they wrote:

"It is necessary to accord Jerusalem a special statute which will allow Jerusalem not to be victimized by laws imposed as a result of hostilities or wars, but to be an open city which transcends local, regional and world political troubles. This statute, established in common by local political and religious authorities, should also be guaranteed by the international community."

This demand of the Christian religious leaders of Jerusalem substantially reflects what the Holy See has insisted on for years, and which was repeated, though in different terms, by His Holiness Pope John Paul II last Jan. 13, in his address to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See:

1. His Holiness first invoked divine assistance: "May God assist the Israelis and the Palestinians to live from now on side by side with one another in peace, mutual esteem and sincere cooperation!" He added: "Allow me to confide that this hope could prove ephemeral if a just and adequate solution is not also found to the particular problem of Jerusalem." (Thus the question of Jerusalem, together with all that it involves—politically, territorially, religiously, demographically, etc.—exists and is a fundamental one.)

2. The pope continued: "The religious and universal dimension of the holy city demands a commitment on the part of the whole international community in order to ensure that the city preserves its uniqueness and retains its living character." (The pope thus calls for a commitment that is international in nature in order to preserve Jerusalem's identity, especially from the religious and cultural point of view, the very reason why the city constitutes an important part of the world's patrimony.) He goes on to say that: "The holy places, dear to the three monotheistic religions, are of course important for believers, but they would lose much of their significance if they were not permanently surrounded by active communities of Jews, Christians and Muslims, enjoying true freedom of conscience and religion, and engaging in their own religious, educational and social activities."

3. And referring to the scheduled negotiations which should take into account the question of Jerusalem in its entirety, the pope said: "It is my hope that the international community will offer to the political partners most directly involved the juridical and diplomatic instruments capable of ensuring that Jerusalem, one and holy, may truly be a crossroads of peace." (Here His Holiness is asking for an international instrument and for international assistance to safeguard the true value that Jerusalem has for Israelis and Palestinians, for Jews, Christians and Muslims).

The Pope addresses this call to the good will of the political leaders of that region and of the whole world, and to their sense of justice. It is a plea he makes to all believers and a prayer to the God of the three religions, who chose to bless that region with a special manifestation of his presence. God did so in order to call men and women to accept, understand and make their own contribution to his message of brotherhood and peace.

These are the concepts presented in two paragraphs of the already quoted apostolic letter <Redemptionis Anno>:

"Jerusalem contains communities of believers full of life, whose presence the peoples of the whole world regard as a sign and source of hope—especially those who consider the holy city to be in a certain way their spiritual heritage and a symbol of peace and harmony.

"Indeed, insofar as she is the homeland of the hearts of all the spiritual descendants of Abraham who hold her very dear, and the place where, according to faith, the created things of earth encounter the infinite transcendence of God, Jerusalem stands out as a symbol of coming together, of union and of universal peace for the human family."

From the Vatican, May 1996.