11/28/2006, 00.00
ISRAEL – VATICAN

Israel to restart negotiations with the Holy See

Arieh Cohen
The unannounced visit by an Israeli delegation to the Vatican Secretariat of State is a good sign that a new, more positive atmosphere is developing between the State of Israel and the Holy See.

Tel Aviv (AsiaNews) – In Israel, confirmation is available of the surprise statement of Israeli diplomats, at a press conference they convened in Rome yesterday (Monday, 27 November), that Israel and the Holy See have agreed to hold negotiating sessions of their "Bilateral Permanent Working Commission" in December and in January - after the Olmert Government had, in effect, declined to do so ever since taking office last spring. The officials of Israel's Foreign Ministry, led by the Director General, had just concluded a previously unannounced visit to the Holy See's Secretariat of State, at the Vatican Palace. The news is being received with relief, and with cautious optimism, in Church circles. Ever since the incoming Israeli Government cancelled the negotiating sessions that had been planned for May this year, there were apprehensions that the protracted negotiations ( begun on 11 March 1999)  required by the 1993 Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel, might be suspended indefinitely - with incalculable consequences, both for the Catholic institutions in Israel and for the bilateral relationship, which is entirely founded on the Fundamental Agreement and its implementation. It is not known precisely what caused the Government's sudden change of attitude, though it is understood that the Vatican had never given up on its steady (though characteristically discreet) diplomatic efforts. Furthermore, it has often been reported in the media that both the American Catholic Church and influential components of the U.S. Government - at the Department of State, in the Congress, and in the White House itself  - have been encouraging Israel constantly to make sure it is faithful to its international commitments vis-à-vis the Holy See and the Catholic Church. Among others, also a recently established private, U.S.-based, organisation ("The Church and Israel Public Education Initiative") has also begun its work of informing Americans of the significance for them, both as Catholics and as Americans, of the developing relationship between the Catholic Church and Israel - a relationship based on, and defined by, the Fundamental Agreement. "The announced resumption of the negotiations is very important, and gives reason for renewed hope," says its President, Franciscan Father David-Maria A. Jaeger, who admits happily that he is "delighted" with Israel's own announcement of the imminent re-starting of the talks. "Whatever the difficulties," says Father Jaeger - himself an experienced negotiator, who is much respected in Israel, and elsewhere, for his role in helping to shape the historic accord of 1993 - "everything can always be resolved by negotiating, while nothing can be resolved by not negotiating...". As has often been reported, the future Agreement is mainly intended to safeguard the Church's ownership of her places of worship, and to confirm (perhaps in a usefully updated form) the traditional fiscal exemptions that have, for centuries, allowed the donations of Catholics throughout the world to be used in their entirety for their proper purpose of sustaining the lfie and witness of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, including her services to the poor, to education and to health.

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