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Exclusive: The Lowdown on The Vatican Talks

Israel National News learns that the Last Supper Room is off the negotiating table in talks between Israel and the Vatican, at least for now.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 6/15/2010, 9:09 PM / Last Update: 6/15/2010, 9:22 PM

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Israel National News has learned that the Last Supper Room is off the negotiating table, at least for now, in talks between Israel and the Vatican orchestrated by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.

“It's been a good day for Israeli sovereignty,” according to a source in Israel's Foreign Ministry who responded Tuesday night to an Israel National News report earlier in the day. The source, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the information involved, said the negotiations have focused on three areas: the issue of sovereignty over some 21 properties, taxation, and land expropriation. "We [ultimately] agreed to maintain the status quo in many areas," he said.

One of the most difficult points of contention between Israel and the Vatican is the question of who controls the Last Supper Room. The room is said to mark the burial site of Kings Solomon and Hezekiah, and is also located in the same structure that houses the tomb of King David. Further complicating the matter is the fact that the building is known as the oldest Catholic church in the world, and has also served as a synagogue and as a mosque -- in fact, Muslim inscriptions can still be seen on its walls. To simplify matters, the Last Supper Room was taken out of the agreement. "We basically reached the principle that it will not be part of this agreement," the source said. "We have wanted the status quo, and they have wanted sovereignty," since negotiations began 11 years ago. "At this point, it will not be discussed as part of this agreement, which is progress."

Progress was also apparently made on the issue of Israel's right to expropriate land when necessary, albeit not without some caveats. The status quo was maintained on most of the 21 disputed properties in the Land of Israel, but there were six outstanding exceptions in which Israel has allegedly agreed not to confiscate land "unless there is an extreme need": the Mount of Beatitudes, Tabha, Capernaum, the Church of the Annunciation, Mt. Tabor and the Garden of Gethsemane. "Obviously if there is a security situation, the State of Israel can expropriate, as is the sovereign right of any nation," the source said. "After 11 years, that's real progress," he said.

On the issue of taxation, it was agreed that the Catholic Church would begin to pay taxes on those properties that are not specifically used for religious purposes, and that the Vatican will now be treated "like all other religious bodies." In practice, this means that the state will continue to exempt religious properties such as churches and monasteries from being taxed – but it is a significant step in that it now requires the Church to pay taxes on its myriad other properties. This may prove to be a major windfall for the government, because up to now the Vatican has never paid taxes on any of its properties in Israel. “All in all, it's been a good day for Israel's sovereignty,” the source noted. “We made some progress.”