Israel and Vatican nearing agreement on tax dispute ahead of Papal visit

After more than a decade of negotiations, Israel and the Vatican are nearing an agreement on a longstanding tax dispute over Church properties in the Holy Land and a range of other contentious legal issues, senior Foreign Ministry officials said Monday. The major progress in the talks between the two sides comes just two months before the Papal visit to the Holy Land in May, although it remained uncertain whether an accord would be reached ahead of the trip. "Over the last two years, we have made great progress on all the issues of contention, especially on the issue of taxation," said Bahij Mansour, Director of the Foreign Ministry's Religious Affairs Department. "We are 85-90 percent there," he said, adding that most of the points of dispute would be resolved in an April meeting between the sides. Israel's Ambassador to the Holy See said Monday that an official agreement was unlikely ahead of the Papal visit. "There is no doubt that we've made great progress, but it is unlikely that we will conclude the agreement before the Pope's visit," Ambassador Motti Lewy told The Jerusalem Post in a telephone interview from Rome.