Israeli and Vatican officials met in Rome Tuesday for negotiations that have continued for 13 years on a basket of bilateral issues, and afterward issued a brief statement almost identical to the one released after a previous round of talks last June.

The negotiations of the Bilateral Permanent Working Commission between the Holy See and the State of Israel “took place in a thoughtful and constructive atmosphere,” the joint statement said. “The commission took notice that significant progress was made towards the conclusion of the Agreement.”

Last year, at about the same time, the two sides – headed as they were this year by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and Ettore Balestrero, the Vatican’s under-secretary for relations with states – issued a statement that said the “negotiations took place in an open, friendly and constructive atmosphere, and very significant progress was made.”

One diplomatic official said that while significant progress may indeed have occurred; there was still a long way to go in dealing with issues that have bedeviled the sides for years.

The official said Palestinian concern that the Vatican was on the verge of implicitly recognizing Israel’s control over east Jerusalem by reaching an agreement with Israel over church properties there was “ridiculous.”

“Do you really think that is going to happen,” he asked.

Balestrero said in an interview released by the Vatican Tuesday that the agreement being discussed “will not speak about east Jerusalem or places in the West Bank.”

Among the issues the two sides have been talking about for years are which religious institutions owned by the Holy See in Israel will be exempted from tax, in the same manner as synagogues and mosques; the expropriation of Church property for infrastructure purposes; whether church-owned businesses will be exempted from taxes; and questions of sovereignty over sites such as the Cenacle – the site of the Last Supper located outside Zion Gate in Jerusalem.

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