Vatican City, 12 June 2012 (VIS) – Given below are extracts from an interview given to Vatican Radio by Msgr. Ettore Balestrero, undersecretary for Relations with States, concerning the conclusion of the plenary meeting of the Bilateral Permanent Working Commission between the Holy See and the State of Israel.
Question: Over recent days there have been persistent rumors in some circles that the Agreement, which has been in preparation for thirteen years, would finally be signed. Yet it was not signed. What has happened?
Answer: Nothing in particular. It is true that in some circles there was talk of signing the Agreement, but that was not in fact scheduled. As I have said before, progress has been made, but questions still remain to be resolved.
Q: There has been concern among Palestinians that, by signing this Agreement, the Holy See would indirectly recognise Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem and other territory occupied in the war of 1967.
A: The Agreement in question concerns the life, activity and tax status of the Catholic Church in Israel. It does not enter into territorial disputes. There will be no mention of East Jerusalem or of anywhere in the West Bank.
Q: But there has been talk of a draft agreement in which certain places in East Jerusalem and the West Bank are mentioned.
A: Since the beginning of the negotiations we have worked on a plan for a Comprehensive Agreement which also included the so-called 'Schedule One'; that is, a list of individual properties belonging to the Holy See and to certain institutions of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land which, over the years, have been subjected to onerous provisions by Israel. And it is true that some of those properties are in East Jerusalem or in areas occupied in 1967. The aim was to resolve concrete problems. However, for some time now, it has been decided that the Agreement to be signed will only deal with certain properties which are not in East Jerusalem or the West Bank. Therefore it is incorrect to say that, by this Agreement, the Holy See would be violating the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the protection of civilian persons in time of war. The confusion and concern were due to the undue use of a working instrument, which has long since been superseded and which, in any case, is still being elaborated.
Q: Has the position of the Holy See on East Jerusalem changed?
A: The Holy See's position has not changed. It was affirmed in the 'Basic Agreement' between the Holy See and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), it has been reiterated on various occasions, and will be mentioned again in the 'Global Agreement' with the PLO, currently being prepared.
Q: A final question. It has been written that this Agreement which the Holy See is preparing with Israel will damage agreements that France, Italy and other countries have with Israel.
A: That is untrue, The Agreement concerns the Holy See and the State of Israel, and has no effect on agreements Israel has made with other States. The validity of those agreements depends first and foremost on the will of the parties involved and not on the existence of an agreement those parties have with a third party, in this case the Holy See. This is, moreover, a commonly accepted principle of international law.
PLENARY MEETING OF HOLY SEE – ISRAEL BILATERAL COMMISSION
Vatican City, 12 June 2012 (VIS) – The Bilateral Permanent Working Commission between the Holy See and the State of Israel held a plenary meeting today in the Vatican Apostolic Palace, to continue negotiations pursuant to the Fundamental Agreement article 10 paragraph 2.
"The negotiations took place in a thoughtful and constructive atmosphere. The Commission took notice that significant progress was made towards the conclusion of the Agreement", reads an English-language communique made public today.
"The Commission further acknowledged the exemplary service of Archbishop Antonio Franco and Ambassador Mordechay Lewy on the occasion of their retirement.
"The Parties have agreed on future steps and to hold the next plenary meeting on 6 December 2012 at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs".
The Holy See delegation was headed by Msgr. Ettore Balestrero, under secretary for Relations with States, and the Israeli delegation by Danny Ayalon M.K. deputy minister of Foreign Affairs.