Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat, an avowed enemy of Israel, signed on February 15, 2000, a pact with the Vatican that would “normalize” relations between the PA and Roman Catholic churches in Jerusalem. This bizarre agreement gives rise to several obvious questions. Why was Israel, of which Jerusalem is the claimed capital, bypassed in this strange agreement? Why should the Palestinian Authority have any involvement with Catholic churches in Jerusalem? Is this agreement not a direct affront to the sovereignty of Israel?

To understand the reason for this agreement between a religious leader and the leader of a non-state, we must first realize that most if not all, of the Catholic churches in question are located in East Jerusalem. Arafat has claimed East Jerusalem as the capital of his as yet undeclared Palestinian State. The Vatican does not recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, and has called it “illegal.” (Which shows how much weight the Bible carries in the Vatican.)

According to PLO spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh, Arafat has been lobbying support for his idea of an undivided Jerusalem within which he controls a Vatican-like sovereign entity. Privately, PA officials concede that Israel would only support this idea if it could retain the Jewish quarter and the Western Wall. Of course Moslems already legally control the Temple Mount.

To date, the Vatican and the international community have generally supported internationalizing the Old City, but both Israel and the PA have rejected this idea.

Palestinian Legislative Council Speaker Ahmed Qurei told The Jerusalem Post that he sees the agreement between the pope and Arafat as recognition by the Catholic Church of Palestinian claims to the city. We would concur with this assessment.

In the now sputtering “Peace Process” – which from the Arab’s viewpoint is not a peace process at all but a war process – Jerusalem will obviously become the major flash point in the months ahead. The Holy City is the prize.

At the moment, the battle for Jerusalem is being fought at diplomatic, propaganda, and political levels. In times to come, it could be fought with the high-tech weapons of modern warfare.

What’s Behind it All?

Behind all of this, we must recognize several facts of reality. For centuries, the Roman Church had in place a “replacement” doctrine that stated that the Church had replaced Israel in the divine economy. Said Pope Pius X (1835-1914), “We cannot prevent the Jews from going to Jerusalem, but we would never sanction it…The Jews have not recognized our Lord; we cannot recognize the Jews.”

It is possible that a statement made by Pope John Paul II in 1980 may represent a repudiation of that doctrine. At that time, the pope was addressing Jewish representatives in Mainz. He was speaking of the Jewish-Christian dialogue. “The first aspect of this dialogue,” he said, “namely the meeting between the people of God of the old covenant, which has never been revoked by God (cf. Romans 11:29), and the people of God of the new covenant, is at the same time a dialogue within our church between the first and second part of its Bible.”

By stating that the Mosaic covenant has never been revoked, John Paul may have been recognizing the ongoing validity of this covenant for the Jewish people, and thereby repudiating their rejection from the divine economy. However, as far as we know, no formal statement to this effect was ever made.

However, if the Vatican has recognized the validity of Israel’s covenant with God, then why would it not also recognize the boundaries of Israel as described in the Covenant documents? God, not the United Nations, set these boundaries.

According to the Bible, Jerusalem, all of the present territory of Israel, and much of the land occupied by adjacent nations, legally belongs to Israel. The land that God gave to Israel encompasses a far larger territory than the global community is currently willing to recognize.

The agreement between Arafat and the Vatican may also have prophetic implications. The day is coming when God says, “I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped. Half the city will go into exile but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city” (Zechariah 14:2). Which half of the city is Zechariah speaking of here? It is the Old City that is the target of both Arafat and all of the Muslim nations. It is the Old City in which most of the “sacred” sites reside for Jews, Catholics and Muslims. It is the prize over which wars will be fought.

The Vatican is not on Israel’s side on the issue of Jerusalem. The Vatican supports the Arabs and the community of anti-Semitic nations that seek to see the creation of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. The joint agreement warned Israel, “Unilateral decisions and actions altering the specific character and status of Jerusalem are morally and legally unacceptable.” The Vatican would rather do business with the Muslims, than with Israel. Perhaps that is because it believes that the Muslims will turn out to be the eventual winner in the struggle for Jerusalem, and that will work to Rome’s advantage when it comes to the protection of its holy sites.

The struggle for Jerusalem is at base a religious struggle. It is a battle between three of the world’s great religions to control the city that has long been viewed as “holy” by all three of them. In Biblical terms, the city belongs to Israel. In political terms, it’s an international city. In PLO terms, it’s the capital of a Palestinian state. In Moslem terms, it’s the site of sacred events. As far as Israel is concerned, it’s their capital.

At this point in history, it is important to watch Jerusalem very closely. It is a city of destiny, and one over which much international turmoil is yet to take place. We can only say, with Scripture, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6).