Nuncio to Washington says Israel not keeping its promises to the Holy See
Monsignor Sambi, who was the Vatican envoy to Israel until 2005, highlights the impasse in bilateral relations, due, he believes, to the fact that the Jewish state has failed in ten years to live up to the economic and fiscal commitments it made.

Rome (AsiaNews) – “Everyone can see how much faith can be placed in Israel’s promises,” said Mgr Pietro Sambi, former Vatican nuncio to Israel (till 2005) as he talked about relations between the Holy See and the Jewish state, which he blames for not respecting the commitments it made in an agreement it signed in 1993.

Monsignor Sambi, who now is nuncio in Washington, said in an interview with that “the relations between the Catholic Church and the State of Israel were better when there were not diplomatic relations.”

“The Holy See,” he noted, “decided to establish diplomatic relations with Israel as an act of faith, accepting that the demanding promises to settle the more concrete aspects of the life of Catholic communities and the Church would be left for later.”

“The Fundamental Agreement was signed on 30 December 1993,” Monsignor Sambi said. “In addition to establishing diplomatic relations, it also entailed a Legal Personality Agreement signed in 1997 but never implemented by Israel, as well as an “economic agreement” on three issues: Church property unjustly seized or placed under unjust easement; equal compensation for services provided to the Israeli population, both Jewish and Palestinian, equivalent to those offered by state institutions; and tax status.”

“On the tax issue, the Holy See makes a simple and natural demand. It wants the recognition of the status quo that existed for the past three centuries, something that the State of Israel promised to do upon its independence in 1948, and which is implicit in the Legal Personality Agreement. This situation, which is already in place de facto with respect to tax exemption for Christian religious institutions, should be legally recognised in an international agreement.”

“At present we are in an anomalous situation. Since the Fundamental and Legal Personality Agreements have been signed, they are internationally valid, but not in Israel because Israeli law requires that any international agreement be approved by the Knesset for it to come into force on Israeli territory. And so far no one has bothered to get the Knesset’s approval.”

“After ten years of negotiations the economic agreement has not yet been signed, undercut by delays and the Israeli delegation’s limited power to negotiate, weakened that is by a lack of political will. Everyone can see how much faith can be placed in Israel’s promises! The visa problem for Catholic clerics was easier to solve when there were no diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel.”

“You can’t buy trust,” the nuncio said from the United States. “You build it up by respecting the agreements you sign and keeping faith to the word you give. And we are doing everything possible in the United States to bring the right pressure to bear.”

“Israel has already enough troubles with too many countries. It is just tasteless to create more of it with its friends. The current impasse in the negotiations seems strange not only to the Holy See, the Christian world and many countries friendly to Israel, but also to many Jews, honourable citizens of Israel or denizens of other countries.”