.- An agreement securing the rights of the Catholic Church in Israel is one step closer to being finalized after a meeting between both sides at the Vatican.
“The negotiations took place in a thoughtful and constructive atmosphere,” said the June 12 communique from the Bilateral Permanent Working Commission between the Holy See and the State of Israel.
“The Commission took notice that significant progress was made towards the conclusion of the Agreement.”
Diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel have existed since 1993. Since then, however, there have been unresolved issues regarding the legal status of the Church in Israel. An agreement between both states has been discussed since 1999 but never signed.
“It is true that in some circles there was talk of signing the Agreement, but that was not in fact scheduled,” said Monsignor Ettore Balestrero, the Holy See’s Under-Secretary for Relations with States.
“As I have said before, progress has been made, but questions still remain to be resolved,” he told Vatican Radio on June 12.
Msgr. Ballestrero led the Holy See’s negotiating team, while the Israeli delegation was headed-up by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Danny Ayalon.
Issues at stake include the ownership of some Church buildings that have been confiscated by the State of Israel since its creation in 1948, as well as the tax status of various church properties.
The two delegations will now meet again in December 2012 in Israel.
Msgr. Balestrero said whatever agreement is reached it would not make any reference to the status of East Jerusalem or the West Bank, which Israel gained from Jordan during the Six-Day War of 1967.
“The Agreement in question concerns the life, activity and tax status of the Catholic Church in Israel. It does not enter into territorial disputes. There will be no mention of East Jerusalem or of anywhere in the West Bank,” Msgr. Balestrero stated.
He also confirmed that any agreement regarding the taxation of Church properties would not apply to either of these areas but only to undisputed Israeli territory.