JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel and the Vatican are hoping to lay to rest a decades-old dispute over ownership rights of religious sites in the Holy Land, including the room in which Christians believe Jesus held his last supper.
Following are some facts on the negotiations:
* A major difference is over taxes. Israel says the Vatican has for years benefited from tax exemptions no other mission enjoys. The Vatican said Israel should recognise its historic tax exemptions in the Holy Land that date back centuries.
* Israel says it reserves the right to appropriate church property to build infrastructure if needed or for public safety. The church wants to establish rules to prevent this.
* Conflicting claims of ownership over some of the sites.
* Various Christian denominations acquired substantial property in the Holy Land around the turn of the 19th century under arrangements that European countries made with the declining Ottoman empire.
* U.N. Resolution 181, which partitioned British-ruled Palestine in 1947 and led to the establishment of Israel, calls for existing rights of religious buildings not to be denied.
More specifically, it says: “No taxation shall be levied in respect of any holy place, religious building or site which was exempt from taxation on the date of the creation of the State.”
Successive Israeli governments agreed to observe such rights, but because they stemmed from a number of sources -- treaties, customs, international resolutions -- it was never clear what they entailed.
* To clear things up, the Holy See and Israel drafted what was called the Fundamental Agreement in 1993. Today’s negotiations, which began over a decade ago, focus on one part of that agreement. It calls on the sides to negotiate a comprehensive agreement on “unclear, unsettled and disputed issues, concerning property, economic and fiscal matters relating to the Catholic Church generally, or to specific Catholic communities or institutions.”
It set a target of two years for reaching agreement, a deadline that passed long ago.
* Any final agreement must be approved by the pope and the Israeli government.
Writing by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Paul Taylor
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