Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon is taking part in talks with representatives of the Vatican, Italy and France. Atop the agenda is a possible agreement on a Church exemption for property taxes, as well as an Israeli commitment not to confiscate Church-owned properties.
Benny Kalmanson, a Professor of History at Herzog College and the Dean of Yeshivat Otniel in the South Mt. Hevron region, explained to Arutz Sheva the gravity of the situation: “If these reports are true, it is very grave. Christian churches hold tremendous amounts of lands and assets in Israel, in key areas – such as in Jerusalem, around the Kinneret Sea, and elsewhere – and a promise never to confiscate them will create a great bottleneck in the development of these areas.”
He said that other countries might be able to afford to grant special status to churches and the like, “but in Israel, the proportion of church-owned properties, especially in the capital city, is very large. I don’t say we should confiscate their properties, but I also see no need to make a commitment never to do so. Just as countries have the right to confiscate property for its own needs on occasion, and just like countries collect property taxes from property owners, I believe that the Church should be treated no differently than any other property owner.”
“Particularly now,” Kalmanson continued, “when the Church is not particularly friendly to the Jewish nation – certainly not as friendly as it was under the previous pope – it does not seem very bright to make such gestures towards the Church. The current pope, for some reason, saw the need to begin beatification of Pope Pius XII – whose reactions during the Holocaust ranged from silence to cooperation with and even admiration for Nazism. I cannot understand why there is a need for ‘gestures’ to the Vatican at this time.”
“It could be that the government wants to reduce points of friction in the world because of what happened with the flotilla and the like,” Kalmanson surmised, “but I don’t believe that gifts and gestures of this type will achieve the goal, and in the long range it will only increase tensions between the State and the tremendously large assets of the Vatican.”
It was reported six months ago that talks between Israel and the Vatican had ended with no agreement, particularly on the Vatican’s demand for sovereignty over the Last Supper room on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem. It was also reported that Israel had not agreed to the Vatican’s non-confiscation demand, nor to its refusal to pay municipal taxes.
Messages left for Ayalon’s spokesperson were unanswered. An emailed press release later in the day announced only that the meeting had taken place, progress had been made, and that further sessions are scheduled for July and December.