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Vatican, Israel near agreement on pact after 20 years of negotiations

Catholic World News - May 28, 2013

A long-awaited agreement between the Vatican and Israel, establishing the legal and economic status of Church institutions in the Holy Land, may finally be near completion.

Israeli sources indicate that two critical issues—the tax status of Church properties and the use of the “Upper Room” that was the site of the Last Supper—have been resolved, reports Andrea Tornielli of La Stampa. Negotiators will meet next week to discuss other remaining issues.

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. The Vatican has not offered any public comment on the latest round of talks.

Under the terms of the proposed agreement the building that houses the Upper Room, also known as the Cenacle, would reportedly remain under Israeli state ownership. However the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land—which had previously owned the building, and sought its return—will have administrative control over the Cenacle itself.

The agreement allows tax exemptions for Catholic churches, but stipulates that commercial buildings attached to the churches, such as gift shops and restaurants, will be taxed.

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