Fundamental Agreement Between the Holy See and the State of Israel
The Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel or "Fundamental Accord" is a treaty or concordat between the Holy See and the State of Israel, signed on 30 December 1993. The Agreement deals with the property rights and tax exemptions of the Roman Catholic Church within Israeli territory. It did not resolve all issues, and the parties continue to meet in an attempt to resolve the issues outstanding.
As a result of the Agreement, diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel were established in 1994, with the Vatican appointing an apostolic nuncio to Israel and Israel appointing an ambassador to the Vatican. The present Israeli ambassador is Zion Evrony, who presented his credentials on 30 September 2012.
On 10 November 1997, the Vatican and Israel entered into a further agreement, called an "Agreement Between the State of Israel and the Holy See" (also referred to as the "Legal Personality Agreement" or the "Agreement on the Legal Personality of the Church"), but neither agreement has been ratified by the Knesset.
The Agreement seals diplomatic relations between the two states. Such relations had not been established before 1993 because of issues arising from property seizures in East Jerusalem after the Six-Day War. The transfer of the Israeli capital to Jerusalem, in contrast with the Vatican plan for an "international city" under the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, was also a source of friction between the two states.
The Agreement has not been ratified because of problems with Church taxes, which had become very important for the Latin Church in the region. The non-implementation of the treaty, as well as the failure of the 1990s peace negotiations, was a disappointment in John Paul II's papacy. A related issue was the refusal by some Israeli governmental officials to grant visas to Church personnel.
Church property remains an issue, as the Roman Catholic Church has extensive properties in Israel. When the region was controlled by the Ottoman Empire and, later, by the British Mandatory Administration, those properties enjoyed special legal and tax status. Their status became unclear with the creation of the state of Israel.
The Israeli Knesset has not ratified the Agreement, and the legal status of church properties and communities in Israel is still under negotiation. The Rev. James Massa, head of the USCCB's Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, has said that the Vatican is disappointed with the unresolved economic issues and lack of ratification.
In a paper on the first five years of the accord, Rabbi David Rosen, director of the American Jewish Committee's Department for Interreligious Affairs, stated that normalizing the legal standing of church personnel and institutions is a complex matter. Rosen wrote:
The Holy See would have liked to have been considered as an extra territorial entity, enjoying the same privileges granted to foreign delegations and their properties. There was no way that Israel was going to grant such status, especially not for a community overwhelmingly made up of Israeli citizens. Moreover, aside from the principle, to have done so for the Catholic community without doing so for other Christian denominations would have posed substantial difficulties for Israel.
Israel–Vatican Working Commission
The Israel-Vatican Working Commission was convened in Jerusalem on 30 April 2009 to try to resolve economic issues with the then forthcoming visit of Benedict XVI to the Middle East in mind. The Commission could not reach agreement and met again in the Vatican on 10 December 2009.
A further meeting was held on 20 May 2010; reportedly, the possibility of a comprehensive Israeli-Vatican agreement was discussed. After another meeting, held on 21 September 2010, more progress was reported.
The next meeting took place on 6 December 2010, and yet another on 14 June 2011. A further meeting was scheduled for 1 December 2011 but was convened, in Israel, only on 26 January 2012. Some progress was reported at a meeting held on 12 June 2012. The Working Commission met on 29 January 2013, but no specific progress was reported. Another meeting was held on 5 June 2013, but no progress was reported. Another meeting was held on 11 February 2014 in Jerusalem, and the next meeting was scheduled for June 2014. However, the scheduled meeting of the commission was not held, probably owing to tensions over the peace process. The next bilateral meeting was held in Jerusalem on 18 January 2017.
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