Catholic World News News Feature

Israeli envoy hopeful on pact with Vatican December 03, 2004

The Israeli ambassador to the Holy See, Oded Ben Hur, is optimistic about the prospects for diplomatic agreement between the Vatican and Israel, and reports that negotiations to complete a juridical pact are "well advanced."

In the "Fundamental Accord" that paved the way for diplomatic relations in 1994, the Holy See and Israel agreed to conclude further agreements that would resolve the juridical and economic status of the Church in the Holy Land. But the Israeli envoy admitted that negotiations "have limped along for over ten years, until they came to a virtual standstill because of our own foot dragging.”

Under pressure from the US, Israel renewed the diplomatic talks in July of this year, and since that time representatives of the two sides have met seven times. Ben Hur told a press conference in Rome that Israeli negotiators were showing a "real and serious intention" to wrap up the negotiations-- an attitude which, he conceded, was not evident in the past.

The Israeli ambassador reported that negotiations had resolved most of the contentious issues involving the economic and legal status of Catholic institutions. The two sides, he said, had hammered out agreements regarding the tax status, ownership, and boundaries of Catholic churches, schools, hospitals, monasteries, and other institutions.

One key question remains unresolved: the status of the Catholic Church in the Israeli judicial system. The current law in Israel-- which dates back to the British mandate in 1920, prior to the establishment of the Israeli state-- stipulates that secular courts should not judge religious issues. This stance becomes a problem when different religious bodies advance conflicting claims on church properties.

Israeli negotiators will resume their talks with Vatican officials in mid-December, hoping to resolve the remaining difficulties.

Questioned by reporters about the difficulties that Catholic priests and religious had encountered in renewing their visas, Ambassador Ben Hur said that the problem had been resolve, after the visit by Israeli interior minister Avraham Poraz to Rome in September of this year.

The Israeli envoy also expressed some new optimism about the prospects for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He voiced his delight with the joint statement by the Israeli and Palestinian tourism ministers, urging Christian pilgrims to visit the Holy Land, and said that pilgrims could provide an invaluable service to the peace process with their visits.