Is the decade-long disagreement between Israel and the Vatican about to be resolved? A delegation headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon will leave Wednesday for the Vatican in a bid to reach an agreement about the Catholic Church's demands that it be granted ownership of a number of Christian holy sites, including the room in which the Last Supper is believed to have taken place.
Discussions on the issue will start Thursday. The Israeli delegation includes experts from the Justice Ministry and the Finance Ministry, as well as other figures. The discussions will revolve around the Vatican's demand that it be granted propriety of various Christian sites, tax breaks, and the expropriation of Church properties in Israel.
Israel has already made it clear that it will remain firm in its stance to maintain ownership of the room in which the Last Supper is believed to be held, which is on Mount Zion next to King David's tomb.
However, the delegation plans on showing significant flexibility on the issue of taxes and property fees that the Church has refused to pay for decades and to waive Israel's right to nationalize Church properties. In addition, the State will agree to grant members of the Vatican legal status with Social Security and the courts in Israel.
Nineteen of the disputed sites are in the West Bank and 28 are in Jerusalem. In a published statement, Ayalon said, "They (the Church) will receive certain waivers on expropriation, but not comprehensive ones. We will insist on our right to expropriate property, for instance, for infrastructure purposes. This will be done while maintaining Israeli law and the State's sovereignty."
The disagreement made headlines some six months ago when Israel's Chief Rabbinate asserted that the pope's demand for sovereignty over Christian holy sites ahead of his visit to Israel should not be granted. "According to halacha, it is prohibited for any person to assist in transferring property in the land of Israel to the Vatican in the holy places that are the heart and essence of the people of Israel," the Rabbinate's statement read.