JERUSALEM (JWN and agencies)—Palestinian Christians are concerned that a draft economic agreement between Israel and the Vatican does not differentiate between sovereign Israel and the territories occupied in 1967. They fear that the agreement will mean indirect recognition of Israeli annexation of east Jerusalem and Israeli law in the West Bank.
The Bilateral Permanent Working Commission between the Holy See and the State of Israel is meeting in Rome this week to continue negotiations that began in Jerusalem last week to resolve an agreement begun 13 years ago on the fiscal status of Catholic institutions in Israel.
Known as the “fundamental agreement,” its signing on December 30, 1993 led to the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Israel.
A well-informed source told Haaretz that “there is nothing in the agreement to harm the rights of the Palestinians.”
Christian groups in Jerusalem and the West Bank have held emergency meetings recently on the issue and have contacted the Vatican to insist that the lack of distinction in the pending agreement between occupied territory and Israeli territory could have severe implications.
The agreement, known as the “Legal Personality Agreement,” was signed on November 10, 1997, but was never ratified by Israel due to fiscal issues that have still not been resolved. These include property rights, actions involving property by church bodies, and Issues of taxation and tax exemption.
The well-informed source told Haaretz that the agreement contains no geographical reference to any institution it mentions and there are no negotiations under way over the status of institutions in east Jerusalem. He said the agreement recognizes that “the Vatican has some obligations, but [also] some immunities because of the special character of the Church and religion.”
A Foreign Ministry official said that the Vatican’s position is clear and has not changed: The Vatican does not recognize Israeli sovereignty beyond the Green Line.
Archbishop Dominque Mamberti, the Vatican’s secretary for relations with states, said that “the eventual agreement will not represent a change in the position of the Holy See.”
Mamberti wrote: “The Church, with particular attention to fiscal questions, is asking the State of Israel to treat her institutions in a fair manner, wherever the State of Israel exercised its authority de facto without taking into consideration or determining whether it does so as a sovereign state or as an occupying state, thus without entering into the political aspect of the question.”
Mamberti wrote that the Church remains “extraneous to all merely temporal or political conflicts…unless the contending parties or the international institutions make concordant appeal to its mission of peace.”
On the other hand, Rabbi David Rosen, the international director of interreligious affairs of the American Jewish Committee, who worked for the establishment of ties between Israel and the Vatican, wrote regarding this achievement in 1999: “The Catholic Church thereby not only reaffirmed its recognition of the sovereignty of the Jewish people in its historic homeland, but also registered and placed its institutions under Israel’s legal authority and protection [including its]…institutions in east Jerusalem.