Pope John PaulPope John Paul II called on Israel today to work harder for “a just and stable peace” in the Middle East, to adhere “to international conventions” and stressed the need for “full respect” of the rights of the Palestinians in the territories occupied by Israel.

Those points were made in a Vatican communique issued following a 35-minute meeting today between the Pope and Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, the first high level contact of its kind since 1978.

The communique stated- “His Holiness underlined the urgent need to intensify efforts to reach a just and stable peace for all people of the region who have suffered and are still suffering so much because of the decades-old conflict. He underlined the necessity that all interested parties take part in the negotiating process, while in the meantime adhering to international conventions, so as to favor dialogue and discussion.”

The communique said the Pontiff also suggested that it will be “a useful contribution if the Palestinians of Cis-Jordan and Gaza could enjoy a peaceful existence in full respect for all their rights.” The term Cis Jordan was used at the time of the Palestine Mandate to distinguish western Palestine from Trans-Jordan, now the kingdom of Jordan, and in the context of the communique apparently was a reference to the West Bank.

Shamir Describes Israel’s Concessions

The communique said the Israeli Foreign Minister described to the Pope “efforts and concessions” by Israel to achieve its peace treaty with Egypt. “The Minister expressed his profound preoccupation about the massive flow of weapons into the region and also recalled the grave problem of terrorism,” the communique said. Shamir was also reported to have explained Israel’s motivations for annexing the Golan Heights, a move sharply criticized last month by the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano and the Vatican radio.

According to the communique, the Pope reaffirmed the Vatican’s position on Jerusalem which does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over that city. Shamir “illustrated the commitment of the Israeli government for the safeguarding and free access to the holy places for all faithful,” the communique said.

The Vatican has never extended diplomatic recognition to Israel. The last Israeli Foreign Minister to meet with the Pope was the late Moshe Dayan who had an audience with the late Pope Paul VI four years ago.