(photo credit: AP)
Israel and the Vatican agreed Tuesday to take the contentious issue of
sovereignty over the Last Supper Room in Jerusalem out of the basket of
bilateral issues being discussed, to facilitate movement in glacial negotiations
on other issues that have already been going on for 11 years.
Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon met in the Vatican with Monsignor Ettore
Balestreo, the undersecretary for relations with states, and issued a statement
that “welcomed the progress” of a lower working-level commission thrashing out
issues such as taxation of church property, land expropriation, and sovereignty
over certain sites, such as the room where the Last Supper was believed to have
been held on Mt. Zion, near King David’s Tomb.
The Vatican has demanded
sovereignty over some 21 sites, including the Last Supper Room, while
made clear it does not intend to relinquish ownership.
negotiating principle of “nothing is agreed upon until everything is
upon,” the dispute over the sovereignty issue has held up progress on
issues such as taxation and expropriation.
The Catholic Church currently
does not pay taxes on its properties in Israel, and according to an
being discussed, this practice would come to an end. Exceptions would be
graveyards and orphanages, which would still be tax-exempt.
discussion is progressing on the issue of expropriating church property
infrastructure purposes, with a list of six sites – including the Mount
Beatitudes, Capernaum and the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth –
land expropriation would not be allowed.
Israel and the Holy See have
been discussing these issues formally since 1999. One Israeli official
taking the sovereignty issue out of the “basket” of other bilateral
led to optimism that an agreement on the other topics could be reached
According to a joint communiqué issued Tuesday,
another meeting at the level of Ayalon and Balestreo will be held in
and a lower-level delegation will get together again at the end of July.