A long-overdue diplomatic accord between the Vatican and Israel is finally near completion, according to a top Israeli negotiator.
Israel’s deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon — who took part in the
latest round of talks — told reporters that at a January 29 meeting in
Jerusalem, representatives of the Holy See and the Israeli state were on
the brink of concluding an agreement that would establish the juridical
rights of the Catholic Church in Israel.
Ayalon said that the agreement
would be ready for ratification when a new Israeli government takes
“All the groundwork is finished,” said Ayalon, adding that the accord
will be “nothing short of a milestone” in the relationship between
Israel and the Holy See.
The Vatican-Israeli accord was promised as part of the “Fundamental
Agreement” that was announced in 1993, opening the way for Vatican
recognition of Israel.
Negotiations proceeded fitfully for several
years, and had effectively stopped before US intervention helped prompt
renewed talks beginning in 2004.
Since that time, Israeli government
spokesmen have often said that an agreement was close, whereas Vatican
officials have been more circumspect in their public statements.
A Vatican statement following the January 29 meeting was
characteristically muted, saying only that the negotiations had taken
place “in a thoughtful and constructive atmosphere,” that “significant
progress was made,” and that participants in the negotiations looked
forward to “a speedy conclusion of the Agreement.”
The Vatican and
Israeli negotiators have agreed to meet again in Rome in June 2013.
According to a Jerusalem Post report, the current draft of the
agreement establishes that Church properties will be exempt from
taxation, but Church-owned business will be taxed at the usual rates.
The accord would protect certain Catholic shrines — at Nazareth,
Capernaum, and the Mount of the Beatitudes — from state expropriation.
accord reportedly does not include an agreement on the ownership of the
building that houses the site of the Last Supper, which is claimed by
both Catholics and Jews.