Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday sent a letter to outgoing Pope Benedict XVI thanking him for his work on behalf of strengthening interfaith ties, the premier's office said in a statement.

"In the name of the people of Israel, I would like to thank you for everything you did as pope for the strengthening of ties between Christians and Jews and between the Holy See and the Jewish state," he wrote, saying he wished the pontiff "long life, health and happiness."

Benedict began a week-long spiritual retreat out of the public eye on Monday ahead of his resignation on February 28.

Netanyahu and other Israeli and Jewish leaders praised the pontiff when he made his highly surprising resignation announcement last week, saying that through his warmth toward the Jews he helped counter anti-Semitism around the world.

For the Jewish community, one of the pope's landmark achievements was his exoneration of the Jewish people from responsibility for the death of Jesus.

In a book published in 2011, the pope wrote that those responsible for Jesus's crucifixion were the "aristocracy of the Temple" in Jerusalem and the "masses" -- not "the Jewish people as a whole."

Yet, despite the progress between Israel and the Vatican, some remain skeptical of the Church’s policies regarding the State of Israel, in light of its support for upgraded status of the Palestinian Authority at last November’s General Assembly vote in the United Nations.

“The Vatican policy under the last two Popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, has been very simple: theological dialogue with the Jews and political sovereignty for the Palestinian Arabs. Both popes visited Auschwitz and the synagogues, they both left a paper in the Wailing Wall, all important events, but they have also been pioneers in the Palestinian project, which is essentially a Trojan horse to dismantle the Jewish State,” said Arutz Sheva contributor Giulio Meotti.