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Israel, Vatican edge closer to resolving property, tax disputes

ROME (JTA) – The Vatican and Israel are closer to resolving longstanding disagreements over property and taxes.

A meeting Tuesday between representatives of the Vatican and Israel has brought them closer to ratifying the Fundamental Agreement governing diplomatic relations between the two states, which will establish the rights of the Catholic Church in Israel as well as regulate property and taxation issues.

A joint communiqué following the meeting in Jerusalem of the Bilateral Permanent Working Commission between the Holy See and Israel said “significant progress” had been made. The meeting took place in a “thoughtful and constructive atmosphere” and both sides are looking forward to a “speedy conclusion” of negotiations, the statement said. Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, who took part in the meeting, told the Jerusalem Post that the two sides were “on the verge” of finalizing the accord.

The Church is calling for significant tax exemptions and for property rights for the Catholic Church. Though the Fundamental Agreement establishing diplomatic relations between Israel and the Holy See was signed in 1993, these issues had remained unresolved despite years of ongoing negotiations.

“In the last four years a lot of ground has been covered, and after long, intensive and serious negotiations we have overcome most if not all the outstanding issues that have prevented signing of this agreement for so long,” Ayalon said. “All the groundwork is finished."

The accord needs formal government approval from both sides, which will have to wait until the new Israeli government is installed. The next plenary meeting of the commission is scheduled for June at the Vatican.

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