Property Tax Question Still Unresolved in Israel

Holy See Joins 2 Days of Talks in Jerusalem

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JERUSALEM, NOV. 2, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The question of the Church's access to civil courts and its payment of municipal property taxes in Israel remains unresolved, following recent talks with Israel.



Though no official statement was released, nor any mention made in the local media, delegations of the Holy See and Israel held two days of negotiations in Jerusalem, Oct. 27-28.

AsiaNews sources said the talks took place "in a very cordial atmosphere and there has been some progress on questions of a technical-juridical nature."

Unresolved, however, is Israel's refusal to guarantee the Church access to the courts to protect religious properties and the issue of municipal property taxes, of which the Church is exempt -- a fact that Israel does not recognize -- as established by the United Nations.

"The guarantee to access to judicial power for the resolution of all disputes and controversies involving ecclesiastical property is an essential requirement of principle because it entails one of the foundations of the rule of law," explained Father David Jaeger, an expert in juridical issues of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.

Controversies involving property law "must be decided by an independent judicial power and not by politicians," the Franciscan said told AsiaNews, an agency of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions.

"I hope as a jurist but also as an Israeli, that on this point Israel will be faithful to the idea that it holds of itself: that of a lawful state," he said.

Regarding the municipal property tax, Father Jaeger said that it is legally impossible for Israel to contravene U.N. declarations, mentioned in Israel's own Declaration of Independence.

Moreover, the "Church does not have and will not have the money to pay for taxes because it gets by mainly on charity from Catholics around the world," added the Franciscan spokesman.

The state's expectation that the Church pay municipal property taxes "could entail a reduction of the Church's presence in the area," Father Jaeger warned. "I hope this is not anyone's aim."

The juridical expert of the Custody of the Holy Land said, however, that past experience gives reason for optimism. "By the good will of both parties, these negotiations will give a positive outcome, with due respect for the rights of both parties," he said.

"The fact remains that recognition of the validity of the Fundamental Agreement, signed by both parties in 1993, depends on the conclusion of the current negotiations," he noted.

Under the 1993 agreement, the Holy See accepted Israel's request to establish diplomatic relations.

The document articulates the regulatory principles of relations between the Church and the state, while its implementation was postponed until a series of complementary agreements -- negotiated successively -- ensures the freedom and rights of the Church in Israeli territory.