Tel Aviv (AsiaNews) - The Bilateral Permanent Commission between the Holy See and the State of Israel, the first since the Pilgrimage of Pope Benedict XVI, will take place at Israel’s Foreign Ministry next Thursday, 9 July. There has been no official announcement, but it is already known in ecclesiastical and diplomatic circles. Is it purely by chance that this will be the day before U.S. President Barack Obama will be received in Audience by the Supreme Pontiff in the Vatican? Probably not.
At least since 2003-2004, Israel is particularly aware of the support of the United States for the hopes of the Catholic Church to enjoy legal and fiscal security in Israel. This indeed is the purpose the negotiations underway since 11 March 1999. Many times since then, members and staff of the U.S. Congress, but also American officials and diplomats have interceded – though always kindly and in friendliest fashion, as appropriate between friends – in order to encourage successive Israeli governments to a more exact observance of the Agreements already made with the Holy See (in 1993 and 1997, respectively), and especially in order to recommend greater engagement in the current negotiations.
The United States have a special interest in the matter, not only because of their role in persuading the Holy See to establish official relations with Israel even before securing the situation of the Church in the Jewish State, but also because a very high portion of the offerings that sustain the Church in the Holy Land are made by U.S. citizens-taxpayers-voters of Catholic faith.
The tensions that have emerged on occasion between the Church’s hierarchy and he Obama Administration (over such ethically sensitive matters as legalised abortion, the use of embryos for research and the like) can only contribute to increasing this interest of the present U.S. Government, which is probably looking for ways to increase and consolidate the esteem of the Church in its regard. In fact, seasoned observers suggest, it is possible that the relations between the Catholic Church and the State of Israel will rate a mention in the talks in the Vatican on 10 July. Such a possibility can only be helpful to the renewed Holy See – Israel talks to take place on the day before. But the road to agreement may still not be a short one.
The Agreement that the Parties committed themselves to reaching (as long ago as 1993), on fiscal and property matters, is defined by them as a “comprehensive” one. Its elements are by now more than well known: Safeguarding Church property, especially the Holy Places; a guarantee of due process for the Church; a fiscal régime that will recognise and reconfirm the rights the Church had already acquired by the time of the creation of the State of Israel; social security for clergy and religious.
Contacted by AsiaNews at his university office in Rome, Franciscan Father David-Maria Jaeger, an expert on Church-State relations in Israel, prudently abstains from any comment on these subjects. He limits himself rigorously to the suggestions he says he offers any and all journalists who ask him to shed light on the matter: “The safe way to evaluate the progress of the negotiations is to follow attentively the Joint Communiqués usually issued at the end of the bilateral meetings, in order to see how much time is being dedicated to the negotiations. The more the Commission meets, the more probable and the nearer the Agreement”.
“In my view – he adds – this principle is always valid, and not only in this case: By negotiating everything can be resolved, while nothing can be resolved by not negotiating.” Is Father optimistic?
“As a Christian believer and as a Franciscan, I have a vocation to optimism”, Father Jaeger answers. He adds: “It seems that too much work has already been invested in this for the Parties not to do everything possible to reach the Agreement.”
If Father Jaeger is right, much will be able to be learnt from the schedule of meetings for the next few months, which – if it follows precedent – the Commission may publish at the end of the 9 July meeting (until now only the date of the next Plenary is known, 10 December this year).
Except, of course, for surprises.