Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon heads today (Monday) for the Vatican, leading an Israeli delegation taking part in a plenary session of the Bilateral Permanent Working Commission between Israel and the Vatican.

The exact agenda has not been announced, though it was said that the goal is to "promote economic negotiations between the two countries." Public concern was raised at this time last year that Israel would agree to a Church exemption from taxes on its many properties in Jerusalem and around Israel, a pledge never to confiscate them, and possibly even to give the Church control of additional areas in the Old City.

Last year at this time, Benny Kalmanson, a Professor of History at Herzog College and the Dean of Yeshivat Otniel in the South Mt. Hevron region, explained the gravity of the situation: “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."

Vatican: Pro-PLO State - Despite International Resolutions
Earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI reiterated his support for a Palestinian Authority state in Judea and Samaria, the Biblical homeland of the Jewish People. The Vatican announced that a Palestinian state must “soon” live side by side in peace and security with Israel, and that the Palestinians enjoy “legitimate” rights to a homeland.

This, despite the fact that the original resolutions by the United Nations and League of Nations called for political and national rights in the Land of Israel for Jews – and only for "civil and religious rights" for Arabs. 

Deputy Minister Ayalon is also planning to meet with his counterpart, Under-Secretary for Relations with States Monsignor Ettore Balestrero. The two are to discuss possibilities of promoting bilateral relations and other political issues. The current plenary session is the fifth to be convened since Ayalon was appointed head of the Israeli delegation.