The Pope explained his conviction today when he received the letters of credence of Oded Ben-Hur, 51, Israel's new ambassador to the Vatican. Ben-Hur had been Minister Plenipotentiary in the Policy Planning Bureau.
An hour later, the Pope received in audience U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Both supported the implementation of the "road map," sponsored by the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations. Among other objectives, the peace plan calls for a sovereign Palestinian state.
During his meeting with the new Israeli ambassador, the Holy Father focused on the conflict in the Holy Land and stated firmly: "There is absolutely no question that peoples and nations have the inherent right to live in security."
"This right, however, entails a corresponding duty: to respect the right of others," he continued. "Therefore, just as violence and terror can never be an acceptable means for making political statements, neither can retaliation ever lead to a just and lasting peace."
"Acts of terrorism are always to be condemned as true crimes against humanity," the Holy Father said. "Every state has the undeniable right to defend itself against terrorism, but this right must always be exercised with respect for moral and legal limits in its ends and means."
The Pope also said, "The Holy See is convinced that the present conflict will be resolved only when there are two independent and sovereign states."
"Two peoples, Israeli and Palestinian, are called to live side by side, equally free and sovereign, in mutual respect," he said.
John Paul II acknowledged that this objective needs "to be the subject of open dialogue and sincere negotiation," adding that this is especially true of "questions concerning Palestinian refugees and Israeli settlements, for example, or the problem of setting territorial boundaries and defining the status of the most sacred places of the city of Jerusalem."
"By no means should a decision be made unilaterally," he emphasized. "Rather, respect, mutual understanding and solidarity demand that the path of dialogue never be abandoned. Nor should real or apparent failures lead the partners in dialogue and negotiation to be discouraged."
Israel and the Vatican established diplomatic relations 10 years ago, after signing the Fundamental Agreement, which set forth the basis for relations between the Catholic Church and the state of Israel.
The Pope pointed out that an agreement now is being finalized regarding the fiscal and economic matters of Catholic institutions in Israel.
The Holy Father said that this climate of trust might lead to resolving "difficulties that the Catholic faithful in the Holy Land face on a daily basis," such as "access to Christian shrines and holy sites, the isolation and suffering of Christian communities, the dwindling of the Christian population due to emigration."
When greeting John Paul II, Ambassador Ben-Hur thanked him for his extraordinary contribution to the new approach in relations between the Church and the Jews.
The ambassador guaranteed his government's commitment to protect the holy places in Israel for Jews, Christians and Muslims.