[Editor’s Note: On Monday, Pope Francis delivered his annual address to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Vatican, in what’s generally considered his most important foreign policy speech of the year. It was a typically wide-ranging overview of the global scene, from nuclear disarmament and the dangers of anti-immigrant rhetoric to the pro-life cause and “ideological colonization.”
Crux spoke with Ambassador Oren David of Israel, a veteran diplomat who’s served in Canada, the United States, Romania, and as a non-resident ambassador to Moldova and Malta prior to taking up his current post in 2016.]
Crux: Was there anything about Pope Francis’s speech that struck you as especially important?
David: It was a beautiful speech. I appreciate the meaning, and the duty, implied in referring to the First World War, the war we assumed would end all wars. Obviously, that didn’t happen. It was important to mention the centennial anniversary of the end of that war, because we have to learn from our past.
It was also beautiful how the speech ended by making a literary reference to the builders of the medieval cathedrals in Europe. They knew how to work together, transcending the limits of time. They knew they would not live to see their project completed, and they did it taking into consideration that they were contributing to the future generations. Humanity has to learn to work together in order to achieve the common good.
Among other global situations the pope touched on, he discussed the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Largely, he reiterated the Vatican’s long-standing support for a two-state solution within internationally recognized borders, and also for the status quo in Jerusalem, which was upset recently by President Donald Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
What did you make of what the pope had to say on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict?
As you said, he mentioned many conflicts, as well as other issues of importance in the international arena today. I’d just like to avail myself of this opportunity to reaffirm that Israel wants peace as much as His Holiness wants it, peace for its citizens and peace for its neighbors.
As for Jerusalem, which indeed the pope mentioned, Israel acknowledges the importance of Jerusalem to all three monotheistic religions. Therefore, Israel guarantees, and we’ve always guaranteed, freedom of access and worship in the holy sites to all believers equally.
We also join the pope’s call for dialogue and the resumption of negotiations, which was part of his reference to the Israel/Palestinian conflict.
Did you have anything that would mark a new position from the Vatican?
No. It was a confirmation of their long-standing concerns.
On the diplomatic scene, the Vatican is a fairly unique actor – a sovereign state with no national economy, no real standing army, none of the usual political interests. From Israel’s point of view, why is it important to have diplomatic relations with the Holy See?
The importance of relations between Israel and the Holy See lies on many important components. There are two basic pillars, the first of which is political. It’s based on the Fundamental Agreement signed in 1993 between Israel and the Holy See. Then there’s the unique theological component, of which Nostra Aetate in 1965 is the basic expression. [Note: Nostra Aetate was the document of the Second Vatican Council on the Church’s relationship with other religions, focusing especially on Judaism.]
The importance lies in the uniqueness of relations, by definition, between the one and only Jewish state and the Vatican, which is the sole state and center of the Catholic world. It’s important that we continue to cooperate with the Holy See on a number of matters, including the battle against anti-Semitism, bringing the message of Nostra Aetate to all believers, and cooperating in different fields and domains for the common good. This is what we’re doing.
Popes take positions on all kinds of global issues. As an observer of geopolitics, do you see evidence that the Vatican is effective in trying to promote those positions? Does their advocacy make a difference?
I think the Vatican and the pope have a great influence, as well as moral authority, over 1.2 billion Catholics and beyond. It’s a moral authority, a voice, which is heard and respected by the whole international community.
In this respect, the pope is a messenger of peace, and his voice is heard throughout the world. We join him in his attempts to spread peace, dialogue, tolerance and mutual respect, as well as freedom, including freedom of religion – fostering common Judeo-Christian values, which are shared by Jews and Catholics alike.