10/29/2004, 00.00
ISRAEL – VATICAN

Two days of Israel - Holy See negotiations give a partial outcome

Israel continues to deny guarantee for Church's access to civil courts. The payment of taxes, contrary to UN indications, risks reducing the Church's presence in the Holy Land.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Though no official statement was released, nor any mention made in local media, the Holy See and Israeli delegations held two days of negotiations in Jerusalem, October 27 and 28.  Sources close to the negotiations have told AsiaNews that talks took place "in a very cordial atmosphere and there has been some progress on questions of a technical/juridical nature". Two fundamental questions of principle remain unresolved: Israel's refusal to guarantee the Church access to court to defend religious property, and the thorny matter of municipal property taxes which, according to UN indications, should not be levied against the Church. Israel in fact does not recognize such an exemption.

Father David M. Jaeger, an expert on Church/Israel relations, explained to AsiaNews what questions are still on the table: "The guarantee to access to judicial power for the resolution of all disputes and controversies involving ecclesiastical property is an essential requirement of principle because it entails one of the foundations of the rule of law".  Fr Jaeger stresses that controversies involving property law "must be decided on by independent judicial power and not by politicians. I hope, as a jurist but also as an Israeli, that on this point Israel will be faithful to the idea that it holds of itself: that of a lawful state".

As for municipal property taxes, Fr. Jaeger says that it is legally impossible for Israel to contravene UN declarations, to which Israel's own declaration of independence refers.  But, there is also a practical problem: "The Church does not have and will not have the money to pay for taxes because it gets by mainly on charity from Catholics around the world", Fr. Jaeger said.  The state's expectation that the Church pay municipal property taxes "could entail a reduction of the Church's presence in the area.  I hope this is not anyone's aim".

Experience over the years gives reason for optimism, however:  "By the good will of both parties," the Franciscan priest concludes, "these negotiations will give a positive outcome, with due respect for the rights of both parties. The fact remains that recognition of the validity of the Fundamental Agreement, signed by both parties in 1993, depends on the conclusion of the current negotiations".
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