Ayalon: Israel won't give up Christian holy sites

Israel, Vatican reach understanding on real estate taxation in Holy Land.

Jerusalem and the Vatican have made significant progress in the ongoing negotiations between the sides after a breakthrough on the issue of taxation of the Holy See’s property in Israel.
According to conclusions reached Tuesday at the Bilateral Permanent Working Commission taking place in the Vatican, religious institutions owned by the Holy See in Israel will be exempted from tax, in the same manner synagogues and mosques are.
Church-owned businesses, however, will not be afforded that dispensation.
A joint communique issued following the meeting headed by Ettore Balestrero, under-secretary for relations with states, and Deputy Foreign Minister- Danny Ayalon said “the negotiations took place in an open, friendly and constructive atmosphere, and very significant progress was made.” The next plenary meeting will be held this December at the Foreign Ministry.
Hope has been expressed that now that the taxation issue seems to be resolved, other topics, such as sovereignty over sites and appropriation of Vatican- owned land by Israel – might be resolved. The Vatican had demanded sovereignty over sites, including the Cenacle – or the Upper Room, the site of the Last Supper, which is outside Zion Gate in Jerusalem.
Last year, the sides agreed to take the contentious issue of sovereignty over the Cenacle out of the bilateral issues being discussed, to facilitate movement in the negotiations.
While Israel remains firm in its refusal to relinquish ownership over the Cenacle and other sites, certain gestures might be made to provide the Holy See with leeway.
“Israel will not give up sovereignty over any of the holy places,” Ayalon said on Tuesday.
“However we will always keep freedom of worship and free access to all religions to their holy places.”
Herb Keinon contributed to this story.