ROME (CNS) — An eventual agreement between Israel and the Vatican over property taxes and property rights in no way will imply that the Vatican recognizes Israel’s claims over East Jerusalem and the West Bank, a top Vatican official said.
Vatican and Israeli representatives are continuing their long-running negotiations over the legal and financial status of Catholic Church property in Israel, but the Vatican has excluded from the discussion property located in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, said Msgr. Ettore Balestrero, the Vatican undersecretary for relations with states.
Prior to the Vatican-Israeli commission’s negotiating session June 12 at the Vatican, news reports from Israel and the Palestinian territories suggested that the Vatican would indirectly recognize Israeli control over the disputed territories by negotiating how Israel would tax church property, including in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which Israel annexed in 1967.
Msgr. Balestrero told Vatican Radio June 12 that while some of the church properties facing heavy tax burdens under Israeli law are in the disputed areas, the Vatican-Israeli agreement would concern only property located in the territory internationally recognized as belonging to Israel.
He said the confusion was caused by an improper use of a working document, which already had been changed.
While the Vatican-Israeli commission said June 12 that “significant progress was made toward the conclusion of an agreement,” members said they would meet again in December in Israel.
The meeting marked a continuation of negotiations on legal and fiscal issues that remained unresolved after the two launched full diplomatic relations in 1993. The Fundamental Agreement between Israel and the Vatican stipulated that an agreement was to be reached within two years, but a bilateral permanent working commission had been trying since 1999 to resolve the differences.
Issues discussed in the talks over the past 13 years include the extent of tax exemptions for church property, including church-owned properties not used for worship; the protection of church properties, especially holy places, from government appropriation; the restitution of some properties that had been confiscated by the government; and church institutions’ access to the Israeli court system in cases of property disputes.