The Bilateral Permanent Working Commission between the Holy See and the State of Israel met yesterday in plenary session at Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The delegations were headed, respectively, by Mgr Pietro Parolin, the Holy See's under-secretary for Relations with States, and Mr. Danny Ayalon, the deputy foreign minister of the Government of Israel.
After a half day of talks the two delegations released a joint communiqué in which they noted that “significant progress” had been made by working-level negotiators in the months since the previous plenary in December of last year, and announced that the next plenary is scheduled to take place on 10 December this year, at the Vatican.
Some in the media had been expecting the Bilateral Commission to complete its work on the ‘Economic Agreement’ in time for the Holy Father's pilgrimage to the Holy Land (8-15 May), although experts had been warning that that was not a realistic expectation. The announcement of the next plenary for December means that negotiations are expected to last at least until then. At the same time the delegations repeated their commitment to accelerate the negotiations in order to reach agreement as soon as possible.
The delegations on the Commission are negotiating a treaty that should recognise the Church's historic tax exemptions in the Holy Land (roughly equivalent to those in the United States and other Western countries), establish rules for the protection of Church property, especially the Holy places, and obtain the return to the Church of some lost properties, particularly sacred places, such as the church-shrine in Caesarea that was expropriated and razed to the ground in the 1950's. These negotiations began on 11 March 1999.