Israel Is Not Keeping Its Promises, Says Archbishop Sambi

Nuncio Notes That Nation Lacks the Political Will

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WASHINGTON, D.C., NOV. 18, 2007, (Zenit.org).- Israel doesn't have the political will to keep the promises it made to the Holy See, according to the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi.

"If I must be frank, the relations between the Catholic Church and the state of Israel were better when there were not diplomatic relations," said the archbishop, who was the nuncio to Israel from 1998-2005, in an interview Friday with Terrasanta.net.



"The Holy See decided to establish diplomatic relations with Israel as an act of faith," he said, "leaving for later the promises to handle the more concrete aspects of the life of Catholic communities and the Church to be addressed later."

On Dec. 30, 1993, the fundamental agreement was signed, which, besides establishing diplomatic relations "dictates that there also be a legal agreement, signed in 1997, but never implemented on Israeli territory, and an economic agreement."

The economic agreement, Archbishop Sambi said, dealt with three issues: the status of Church property; equal compensation for services the Church provides to the Israeli population, whether Jewish or Palestinian; taxes.

Taxes

"In regard to the question about taxes, the Holy See asks something simple and natural," he said. "It desires that that which has happened in the last three centuries, that which Israel promised at the moment of its independence in 1948, that which is implicit in the legal agreement, that which in fact has been happening up until this moment in regard to tax exemption for Christian religious institutions, be crystallized in an agreement that has international value."

"Now there is a strange situation," continued Archbishop Sambi. "The agreements that are already signed, the fundamental and the legal one, are internationally valid, but they are not valid in Israel because Israeli law requires the approval of the Knesset [Israeli Parliament] for an internationally valid agreement to be valid in Israeli territory.

"And no one has any concern to seek the approval of the Knesset. The economic agreement, after nearly 10 years of negotiations that have been made useless by the Israeli delegation's delays because of its lack of authority in these negotiations, in a word, because of a lack of political will, has not yet been signed."

"The confidence that can be placed in Israel's promises is plain for all to see," he observed.

"The problem of visas for Catholic religious," the archbishop added, "was easier to deal with when there were no diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel."