Jerusalem (AsiaNews) –Two days of negotiations begin today between the Holy See and the State of Israel, on the tax status and properties of the Catholic Church in the Jewish state. For almost 10 years now the Church and State have been seeking to reach an agreement to reconfirm the historic tax exemptions of the Church, to set rules for the protection of Church properties, especially sacred places, to have return to the Church several sacred sites lost over time, including for example the shrine in Cesarea, confiscated and raised to the ground in the 1950s. Wednesday 17 December the two delegations will meet at working level, while the next day, the 18th, they will meet in plenary session, when the negotiators will be led, for the Holy See by Msgr Pietro Parolin, undersecretary for relations with States, and for the State of Israel by his counterpart in the Israeli government.
The negotiating sessions, in a round that began on the 11th March 1999, is being held against the background of persistent rumours of a possible pilgrimage to the Holy Land in May next year of pope Benedict XVI, and therefore of a papal visit to Israel, something for which the Israeli government has been pressing very hard. There are many who hope that the prospect of a papal visit will serve as a powerful catalyst in the negotiations.