04/01/2005, 00.00
ISRAEL - VATICAN
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Veil of discretion over Holy See- Israel Meeting

by Yedidia Amato

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) The Delegations of the Holy See and of the State of Israel met once more on Thursday, 31 March, at the seat of Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and continued their negotiations aimed at implementing the 1993 Fundamental Agreement, through a "comprehensive agreement" on confirming the Church's tax exemptions, safeguarding Church property and securing the State's participation in funding the social and educational work of the Church on behalf of residents of the State. The meeting came shortly after the sixth anniversary of the start of this round of negotiations on 11 March 1999. Like every negotiation between the Parties since 29 July 1992, it took place within the framework of the Bilateral Permanent Working Commission between the Holy See and the State of Israel, which was established and announced on that date.

The meeting took place without any public announcement, and no official communiqué was published upon its conclusion. AsiaNews has learnt though that it lasted the full working day, unlike the previous meeting - on 16 February - which dissolved after only two and a half hours. According to veteran Commission watchers reached by AsiaNews the length of the meeting, that it lasted the whole day, means that the Delegations were engaged in serious work and were doing so in a purposeful manner. Other than that though, AsiaNews has not been able to gather any concrete information about the precise contents of the talks, or about whether - and what - concrete progress may have been achieved. A source close to the Delegation of the Holy See has explained to AsiaNews that the meeting was conceived as a part of a three day series, with the next appointments being scheduled for 20-21 April, and that the Delegations are likely to evaluate the series as a whole, while further meetings are also now certain to be planned for. The source also disclosed that the meeting took place in a "very cordial atmosphere," with both Parties sharing freely their concerns and their expectations.

Given that the negotiations have resumed and are apparently taking place in a friendly atmosphere, there is an expectation in Church circles here that the Government will soon amend its statement given to Israel's Supreme Court last year. At that time the Government officially told the Court that it does not consider itself  bound by the 1993 treaty with the Holy See (the Fundamental Agreement). That statement was met with astonishment, and protests, on the part of the Catholic Church. Now it is hoped that, given the depth of the perplexity on the part of the Church, and the intrinsically inexplicable nature of the Government's statement to the Court, the Government will rethink its position and approach the Court once more with a different statement. It appears that the next hearing on this matter at the Supreme Court is scheduled for the end of June, so that Government ministers and  lawyers still have some time to consider the matter and correct their mistake, probably a mistake made by low level legal personnel, unfamiliar with the Fundamental Agreement, and with the relationship between the Holy See and Israel, and completely unaware of the implications and repercussions of what they erroneously thought was just a routine legal brief.
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