Israel in surprise reopening of Holy See negotiations

In a move that surprised observers, Israel has agreed to re-launch negotiations with the Holy See over church status in the Holy Land that have been stalled since the Olmert government came to power.

AsiaNews reports that an Israeli delegation will visit the Vatican Secretariat of State in December and January to hold negotiating sessions of the "Bilateral Permanent Working Commission" that has not met since the Olmert Government came to office early this year.

The officials of Israel's Foreign Ministry 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, according to AsiaNews.

Ever since the incoming Israeli Government cancelled the negotiating sessions that had been planned for May this year - required under the Fundamental Agreement 1993 which seeks to establish formal relations between the two states - there were fears that the protracted negotiations which began in 1999 would be suspended indefinitely.

No reasons were given to explain the Israeli government's sudden change of attitude, though AsiaNews says that the Holy See never gave up on its steady but discreet diplomatic efforts.

The AsiaNews report also says that the US bishops and influential members of the US Government have been encouraging Israel to make sure it is faithful to its international commitments vis-a-vis the Holy See and the Catholic Church.

"The announced resumption of the negotiations is very important, and gives reason for renewed hope," says its President, Franciscan Fr 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 Fr Jaeger - himself an experienced negotiator, who is much respected in Israel, and elsewhere, for his role in helping to shape the historic Vatican-Israeli accord of 1993 - "everything can always be resolved by negotiating, while nothing can be resolved by not negotiating...".

The future agreement is mainly intended to safeguard the Church's ownership of her places of worship, and to confirm the centuries-old tax exemptions on donations to the Church.

Israel to restart negotiations with the Holy See (AsiaNews, 28/11/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Israel
Vatican website

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29 Nov 2006