Vatican Assembly (R) 311.
(photo credit: Reuters)
After 14 years of glacial negotiations, Israel and the Vatican are on the verge
of signing a long-elusive agreement that would formalize diplomatic relations,
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said on Tuesday.
to The Jerusalem Post came after a meeting in Jerusalem of a working commission
that has been trying to iron out various issues between Israel and the Holy See
Israel and the Vatican established diplomatic ties in
“In the last four years a lot of ground has been covered, and after
long, intensive and serious negotiations we have overcome most if not all the
outstanding issues that have prevented signing of this agreement for so long,”
He said the two sides were “on the verge of signing, subject
to final approval by the government of Israel and the Holy See.”
explained that the final agreement was not signed on Tuesday, because it was not
appropriate for a caretaker government to sign the agreement, and that the
actual acceptance and signing should be left to the next government.
the ground work is finished and I trust the new government will sign soon, which
is nothing short of a milestone in the relationship,” he said.
who has led the negotiations with the Vatican for the past four years, but will
be leaving his post next week, said the conclusion of the agreement signifies a
“real upgrade in relations between Israel and the Holy See, and between the
Jewish people and one billion Catholics around the world, to the benefit of both
Ayalon and his counterpart from the Vatican, Ettore Balestrero,
the under-secretary of the Holy See for the relations with states, issued a
joint communiqué saying the joint commission that met on Tuesday “took notice
that significant progress was made and looks forward to a speedy conclusion of
Jerusalem expects this agreement to improve relations not
only with the Vatican, but also with other Catholic countries around the world
for whom the Vatican’s position vis-a-vis Israel is important.
years the discussions have centered around three main issues: the status of the
Catholic Church in Israel; the issue of sovereignty over some 21 sites in the
country, including the Cenacle – the site of the Last Supper on Mount Zion; and
taxation and expropriation issues.
Ayalon said that agreements have been reached on each of the issues.
most contentious was the issue of sovereignty over the Last Supper Room, with
the Catholic Church demanding ownership, and Israel not willing to relinquish
it. The two sides have essentially agreed to disagree on the matter, but not let
it stand in the way of the overall accord.
While the Catholic Church does
not pay taxes on its properties in Israel, under the agreement, religious
institutions owned by the Holy See will be exempted from tax, just as synagogues
and mosques are, but church-owned businesses will not.
The agreement also
works out the issue of expropriating Church property for infrastructure
purposes, with a list of five sites – including the Mount of Beatitudes and
Capernaum near Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) and the Church of the
Annunciation in Nazareth – where land expropriation would not be allowed except
for public safety in situations of emergency, and then only after coordination
with the Church.