Benedict XVI was visited today by President Simon Peres of Israel at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo. Their dialogue included a discussion on negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

A Vatican communiqué reported, “Concerning the renewal of direct contacts between Israelis and Palestinians, scheduled for today in Washington, the hope was expressed that this may assist in reaching an agreement that is respectful of the legitimate aspirations of the two peoples and capable of bringing lasting peace to the Holy Land and to the entire region.”

In Washington D.C., the first direct peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in nearly two years took place today.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas formally opened negotiations, and agreed to meet every two weeks in the Middle East, beginning Sept. 14.

However, the negotiation process has not been without opposition in that region.

On Tuesday, a pregnant mother, another woman and two men were killed in the West Bank by Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic organization with a paramilitary force and political arm that has control in the Gaza Strip.

Abbas responded by ordering the arrest of some 250 Hamas members.

The Vatican reported that the Pope and Peres spoke about the “condemnation of all forms of violence” and they emphasized the “necessity of guaranteeing better conditions of life to all the peoples of the area.”

Diplomatic relations

Other topics of the “cordial” discussion included the Holy Father’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land in May, 2009, as well as interreligious dialogue and the international situation.

The Vatican reported that “the discussions also permitted the examination of the relations between the State of Israel and the Holy See and those of the state authorities with the local Catholic communities.”

In this regard, they “underlined the great particular significance of the presence of these communities in the Holy Land and the contribution which they offer for the common good of society, also through Catholic schools.”

The communiqué reported that in the meeting, “the results, thus far, of the bilateral working commission, which has for many years been tasked with the drafting of an Accord concerning economic matters, were noted.”

“At the same time,” it added, the hope was expressed “for the rapid conclusion of its work.”

The Holy See is currently in negotiations with Israel over the terms of the 1993 Fundamental Agreement.

The Fundamental Agreement established diplomatic relationships between the Holy See and Israel. Since then, the two sides have been negotiating the particulars of tax exemptions and property rights for the Church, in particular for the holy sites. The next plenary session of the commission will take place Dec. 6 at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Peres also met with the Pontiff’s secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and the secretary for relations with states, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti.