07/04/2004, 00.00
vatican - israel

Thanks to the US, Negotiations with the Holy See Are Back on Track

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – The Church in Israel is waiting for the expected announcement that negotiations between the Holy See and the State of Israel are back on track. The Vatican and Israeli delegations will meet at 9 a.m. on Monday, July 5.

 Israel had left the table of negotiations on August 28, last year. According to the local press, the Israeli government is now ready to renew talks at the direct urging of the Bush administration and influent Catholic members of the US Congress who insist that Israel respect the commitments it made in the past. On the table is a comprehensive agreement that would resolve all pending questions between the Catholic Church and the Jewish state such as the question of tax exemption status, restitution of Church properties and state funding of social welfare services provided by the Church to Israelis.

 The Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel was signed ten years ago. In being a party to it, the Holy See accepted Israel's demand for the establishment of full diplomatic relations. Under the terms of the agreement a series of additional accords were supposed to be reached insuring the Church its rights and privileges in Israel. However, Israel has not passed any law fulfilling its obligations under the terms of the Agreement. On August 28, 2003, Israel withdrew from the negotiations without any explanations at a time when the two parties were working on provisions protecting Church properties and on tax exemptions.

 The US played a crucial role in urging the Holy See to establish diplomatic relations with the State of Israel. Now, it is playing a similar role in urging Israel to restart negotiations with the Vatican.

 On March 23 of this year, the chairman of the House International Relations Committee, Congressman Henry Hyde, a devout Catholic and one of the most influential leaders of the Republican party (which controls both houses of Congress as well as the White House) officially wrote to Secretary of State Colin Powell asking that the US urge Israel come back to the negotiating table. This step was also backed by both Jewish American and Catholic American groups.

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