President Shimon Peres was accompanied by five others for the visit to the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo, including the director of his office, Ms. Yona Bartal. They spent the morning visiting on-site gardens and met with leaders of the Vatican secretariat of state before the 11 a.m. audience with Pope Benedict.
According to a statement released by the Holy See following the 40-minute encounter, the resumption of direct talks between Israel and Palestine was primary among the themes of discussion in the private meeting.
On Thursday in Washington D.C., through U.S. government mediation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are returning to the negotiation table after a nearly two-year absence of talks.
According to a Reuters report, President Barack Obama hopes that the two sides can reach an agreement that, within a year, would establish the parameters of the Palestinian state and ensure security for Israel.
President Obama said on Wednesday, “This moment of opportunity may not soon come again. They cannot afford to let it slip away.”
For their part, President Peres and the Holy Father hoped that the return to speaking terms might “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.”
Peres received the Nobel Prize in Peace 1994, jointly with Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, for his work towards the creation of peace in the Middle East.
Among other subjects of discussion during their meeting was the contribution of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, the state of inter-religious dialogue in the world and the possibility of a “rapid conclusion” to Holy See-Israel Joint Working Commission negotiations. The joint talks have been working to establish the legal and economic status of the Catholic Church, its properties and representatives in the Holy Land since 1993.
At the conclusion of the audience, President Peres gave the Holy Father a one-foot tall silver Menorah on which is inscribed: “To his holiness Pope Benedict XVI, the Shepherd who seeks to lead us to the fields of blessings and the fields of peace.”