11/17/2005, 00.00
VATICAN – ISRAEL

Pope receives Israeli President, reiterates agreements must be implemented

Benedict XVI told Moshe Katzav that the Holy See is in favour of a two-state solution: Israel and Palestine. He also insisted on the Church's demands that agreements already signed that recognise its legal status in Israel be respected.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Talks between Israeli President Moshe Katzav and Pope Benedict XVI, and then Vatican Secretary of State Card Angelo Sodano, centred on implementing existing agreements between the Holy See and the current situation in the Middle East region. The Holy See used the occasion to reiterate its support for a two-state solution—Israel and Palestine existing side by side—to the ongoing crisis.

In a statement, the deputy director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr Ciro Benedettini, said that the parties "discussed relations between Israel and the Holy See since diplomatic ties were established in 1994".

Both sides focused on the implementing the 1993 Fundamental Agreement and the 1997 Legal Personality Agreement.

The position of the Holy See on the current situation in the Holy Land was reiterated—stress was placed on its support for the existence and the collaboration between the two states of Israel and Palestine.

The talks also addressed the possibility of closer cooperation between the two sides in the humanitarian field, especially in Africa, and in matters of culture.

In its communiqué, the Vatican noted that relations with Israel are back on an even keel after a controversy broke out when the Israel accused Pope Benedict XVI of leaving out Israel from a list of countries victims by terrorism.

President Katzav (who had already visited the Vatican on December 12, 2002, with the late Pope John Paul II) was amongst those who tried to overcome the diplomatic row.

Many in the Vatican saw the issue as a pretext to undermine the work of the bilateral commission charged with implementing the agreements.

Twelve years after establishing diplomatic relations with Israel the Holy See is still waiting for Jerusalem to fulfill its commitment to grant Catholic institutions legal personality.

On several occasions, Israeli legal bodies have thwarted of the Fundamental Agreement that governs relations between state and church. Last year, the Israeli government officially even told the Supreme Court of Israel that it did not recognise its obligations under the terms of the Agreement.

Pope Benedict XVI's visit to a synagogue in Cologne (Germany) and his words of respect and friendship towards Jews cleared the atmosphere.

At the same time, the Pontiff told Israel's Chief Rabbis on September 15 that he was eager to see the Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel implemented.

Speaking on the history of concordats only a few days ago, the Secretary for Relations with States Mgr Giovanni Lajolo, the Vatican's 'Foreign Minister', said he hoped that "once the Fundamental Agreement was ratified, it would become part of Israel's laws".

For the Holy See, the key factor remains the recognition of the Church's legal personality in Israel which entails protection for tax exemptions already in place since the creation of the state of Israel.

Recognition would also enable the Church to defend its property rights before Israeli courts—in some cases in relation to the construction of Israel's defensive wall; in others, in relation to property confiscated over the years. (FP)

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