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Vatican-Israel diplomatic accord finally near completion?

Catholic World News - January 30, 2013

A long-overdue diplomatic accord between the Vatican and Israel is finally near completion, according to a top Israeli negotiator.

Israel’s deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon—who took part in the latest round of talks—told reporters that at a January 29 meeting in Jerusalem, representatives of the Holy See and the Israeli state were on the brink of concluding an agreement that would establish the juridical rights of the Catholic Church in Israel. Ayalon said that the agreement would be ready for ratification when a new Israeli government takes power.

“All the groundwork is finished,” said Ayalon, adding that the accord will be “nothing short of a milestone” in the relationship between Israel and the Holy See.

The Vatican-Israeli accord was promised as part of the “Fundamental Agreement” that was announced in 1993, opening the way for Vatican recognition of Israel. Negotiations proceeded fitfully for several years, and had effectively stopped before US intervention helped prompt renewed talks beginning in 2004. Since that time, Israeli government spokesmen have often said that an agreement was close, whereas Vatican officials have been more circumspect in their public statements.

A Vatican statement following the January 29 meeting was characteristically muted, saying only that the negotiations had taken place “in a thoughtful and constructive atmosphere,” that “significant progress was made,” and that participants in the negotiations looked forward to “a speedy conclusion of the Agreement.” The Vatican and Israeli negotiators have agreed to meet again in Rome in June 2013.

According to a Jerusalem Post report, the current draft of the agreement establishes that Church properties will be exempt from taxation, but Church-owned business will be taxed at the usual rates. The accord would protect certain Catholic shrines—at Nazareth, Capernaum, and the Mount of the Beatitudes—from state expropriation. The accord reportedly does not include an agreement on the ownership of the building that houses the site of the Last Supper, which is claimed by both Catholics and Jews.

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