Israel, Vatican agree to diplomatic relations


Israel and the Vatican will end years of diplomatic standoff by establishing official relations by the end of this month, Israeli officials and American religious leaders say.

The 14-point agreement is to be signed in Jerusalem Dec. 30 after being initialed in Rome the day before, they said yesterday.

Although the Vatican has recognized Israel, its unwillingness to establish full diplomatic ties has been a sore point between Catholics and Jews.

The agreement, which follows 18 months of intensive, behind-the-scenes diplomacy, is said to include a pledge by the Catholic Church to join Israel in new efforts to oppose anti-Semitism. The agreement is also said to guarantee access to sites holy to Christians, and to assure the church freedom of expression in Israel and the right to carry out charitable functions there, to own property, to maintain schools, and to train and assign personnel.

An initial exchange of representatives probably will lead to an exchange of ambassadors within several months, said Eitan Margalit, the Israeli official in charge of the talks with the Vatican.

The agreement, it is said, does not discuss the eventual status of Jerusalem, leaving that to the Middle East peace talks. The Vatican already has abandoned its traditional position that Jerusalem should be granted international status, concentrating instead on guarantees of access to the holy places.

A committee is to be established to determine whether Catholic institutions in Israel will be taxed.

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