09/19/2005, 00.00
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Pope eager to see Fundamental Agreement between Holy See and Israel fulfilled

by Arieh Cohen
In his meeting with Israel's Chief Rabbis, Benedict XVI explicitly made reference to Israel's need to fulfil its commitments to the Church. Talks between the two delegations resume on September 22.

Tel Aviv (AsiaNews) – There is much satisfaction in the Church in Israel over the explicit reference Pope Benedict XVI made to the treaties and negotiations between the Holy See and the State of Israel in his address to Israel's Chief Rabbis when he received them at Castelgandolfo on the 15th of this month.

According to the text of the Holy Father's brief speech, which was made publicly available by the Holy See's Press Office a day later, the Pontiff said he was very "eager" to see the "fulfillment" of the 1993 Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel.

An AsiaNews source close to both sides told that the Pope's explicit reference to the Fundamental Agreement, and to the further negotiations now underway, is highly significant indeed. Its significance is highlighted by both its context and its timing.

The context was the meeting with Israel's Chief Rabbis intended to mark the 40th anniversary of Vatican II's Nostra Aetate, and to celebrate the friendship and dialogue between Catholics and Jews.

The Papal reference to the Fundamental Agreement and the need to see it "fulfilled"—in this precise context—conveyed very clearly the message that the Agreement and its faithful "fulfillment" are truly essential to the relationship between the Church and the Jewish people.

This means, among other things, that it is essential that Israel be faithful to its treaty obligations vis-à-vis the Holy See and the Catholic Church, including the obligation to negotiate in good faith in order to reach the much delayed agreement on the fiscal status of the Church and Church property.

The timing of the Pope's speech comes just one week before the delegations of the Holy See and the State of Israel are due to meet again on 22 September.

Experts contacted by AsiaNews are optimistic; they hope for a rapid resumption of purposeful, serious, and substantive talks that will leave behind the recent polemics, and that will result, before too long, in the necessary agreement.

The purpose of these negotiations, these experts said, is:

(i)             to enumerate and guarantee the tax rights and exemptions the Church already enjoyed at the time of the creation of the State of Israel;

(ii)           to guarantee that the Church can always have recourse to Israeli courts to protect its property, and

(iii)          to obtain the restitution of certain ecclesiastical properties that were lost through the years, such as the church in Caesarea that was confiscated in the 1950's and later destroyed. 

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