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Netanyahu visits Vatican and Italy

Netanyahu visits Vatican and Italy

PapeetNetanyahouVATICAN CITY – December 2, 2013 – Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday discussed with Pope Francis the latter’s plan to come on pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2014. Further, he expressed anew his frustration over the recent agreement relating to the Iranian nuclear program, in disagreement with Italy’s positive stance.

During the half-hour meeting of Mr. Netanyahu with the Pope, “the plan of a pilgrimage by the Holy Father to the Holy Land” was discussed –  dates were not disclosed, though.  The long awaited talk ended without spectacular declarations.

The relationship between the State of Israel and local Catholic Communities, and that of the Holy See and Israel, the Middle East regional situation and its search for “a just and durable solution mindful of the rights of either side”  of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — those were the themes, very classical by nature, raised during the meeting,  according to a short final Holy See-issued statement.

The half-hour meeting, in the library of the Pope known for his good relations with the Judaism, was followed by another meeting with the newly appointed Vatican Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin.

The lack of well defined particulars on the Papal visit, scheduled perhaps in May,  which will be the fourth –  following the visits by Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI – is explained by the presence here of a team from the Vatican for its preparation, according to informed sources.

The forthcoming visit should include, like the one by Benedict XVI in 2009, stops in Israel, in the territories and in Jordan (with a possible visit to a Syrian refugee camp).

Mr. Netanyahu was preceded to the Holy See by Presidents Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah II.

The Iranian nuclear program, even if mentioned by Mr. Netanyahu, was not referred to in the Vatican statement. The Vatican, indeed, enjoys fairly good relations with Iran, which it  views as a major player on the regional level.

For the pilgrimage of Pope Francis, a scenario discussed was that of a common trip with the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, marking the 50th  anniversary of the historical meeting in the Holy Land between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in 1964.

The relations between Israel and the Holy See are relatively good but burdened by uneasy negotiations on legal and financial issues relating  to Church properties.  The status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, the dissatisfaction of  Catholic communities denouncing the construction of a separating wall and, more generally, the situation of the Christian minority – 2 % of Israelis – are also on the agenda.

The Israeli leader presented to the Pope a book written by his father, historian Benzion Netanyahu, “Origins of the Inquisition in Spain during the XV century”, where the author wrote that Catholics in ancient times had defended Spanish Jews.

Neta et le papeIn his dedication, he described Bergoglio as “a great pastor of our common heritage”

In the afternoon, at Villa Madama, Mr. Netanyahu and Italian Prime Minister, Mr. Letta signed twelve agreements (energy, health, culture, education, films).

Later, during a joint  press conference, Mr. Letta, who called his partner “Dear Bibi”, addressed his difference with Israel regarding Iran.

While  Mr. Netanyahu asked again to “stop” the danger posed by Teheran’s nuclear program to world peace, the Italian Prime Minister expressed his “caution but also his trust” regarding the agreement signed recently in Geneva by the superpowers and the Islamic Republic.

The Israeli leader resumed his  attacks on Iran: “the Iranian regime, beyond smiles and mastery of  English, continues to bring about massacres in Syria, sponsoring terrorism, as is done by Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the worst groups of the world”, he said.

On the other hand, the two leaders came to an agreement in condemning racism and anti-Semitism, Mr. Letta indicating that  a “Shoah Museum” will be set up in Ferrare (North Italy), scene of the famous novel by Giorgio Bassani, “The Garden of Finzi Continis”, which records the rise of racism against Jews under fascist rule.

Source : France Press Agency