Viewing cable 08TELAVIV2630
Title: MFA DISCUSSES NEGOTIATIONS WITH VATICAN, POSSIBLE

IdentifierCreatedReleasedClassificationOrigin
08TELAVIV26302008-11-25 15:06:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tel Aviv
VZCZCXRO9284
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHTV #2630/01 3301506
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 251506Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9317
INFO RUEHROV/AMEMBASSY VATICAN
RUEHJM/AMCONSUL JERUSALEM 0859
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TEL AVIV 002630 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/23/2018 
TAGS: PREL PGOV KIRF VT IS
SUBJECT: MFA DISCUSSES NEGOTIATIONS WITH VATICAN, POSSIBLE 
POPE VISIT 
 
REF: A. REIDHEAD-NEA/IPA-FOLEY E-MAIL 11/21/08 
     ¶B. JERUSALEM 2115 
     ¶C. VATICAN 1 AND PREVIOUS 
     ¶D. 07 TEL AVIV 3487 AND PREVIOUS 
 
Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Luis G. Moreno for reasons 1.4 (B/D). 
 
¶1. (C) Summary and comment: MFA Director for Inter-Religious 
Affairs Bahij Mansour told Poloff that negotiations with the 
Vatican over outstanding issues related to the Fundamental 
Agreement were going well, and that Israel expected a 
"breakthrough" at the December 18 plenary session in Rome. 
According to Mansour, the sides were near agreement on 
language to resolve the taxation issue (reftels), and hoped 
to present it as agreed text at the plenary.  Mansour also 
revealed that Pope Benedict XVI was hoping to visit Israel in 
early May.  Stressing that the plans for a possible visit 
were very sensitive, Mansour asked that we treat this 
information as confidential.  Mansour also said he heard from 
Cardinal Kasper, the Vatican's point person on 
Catholic-Jewish relations, that Pope Benedict was 
increasingly inclined to delay the controversial 
beatification of Pope Pius XII.  News of progress in the 
negotiations and a possible Papal visit are welcome 
developments, if true.  However, we have heard such rosy 
assessments from the Israelis many times before, and yet real 
progress in GOI-Vatican relations has remained elusive.  End 
Summary and comment. 
 
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GOI Believes Breakthrough Imminent 
---------------------------------- 
 
¶2. (C) According to MFA Director for Inter-Religious Affairs 
Bahij Mansour, who is also the Israeli coordinator for 
negotiations with the Vatican, GOI and Vatican negotiators 
made significant progress during their last round of 
working-level talks on November 6.  Pointing to what he 
called a spirit of compromise on both sides, Mansour said the 
MFA was hopeful that a "breakthrough" deal to settle the 
property tax ("arnona") issue would be agreed at the next 
plenary negotiating session in Rome on December 18.  Mansour 
declined to elaborate, but was confident that the Vatican 
would be pleased.  He said the Ministry of Interior still 
needed to approve the MFA's taxation plan, but stressed the 
MOI was aware of the idea and had already expressed general 
support.  He expected MFA and MOI experts to begin hammering 
out the final details in early December.  Mansour said MFA DG 
Abramovich would again lead the Israeli delegation to the 
plenary talks. 
 
------------------- 
Papal Visit in May? 
------------------- 
 
¶3. (C) Mansour also revealed that Israel was in discussions 
with the Vatican over the possibility of a Papal visit to the 
Holy Land in early May 2009 (please protect).  Mansour, who 
somewhat over-optimistically described the visit as a done 
deal, said the visit would be designed so that Pope Benedict 
XVI could demonstrate commitment to local Catholics, 
Christian holy sites, and the peace process.  Stressing that 
few in his own government knew about the visit, Mansour asked 
us to treat this information as strictly confidential until 
the Vatican makes any diplomatic approaches or public 
announcements of its own.  He said a Vatican advance team 
would arrive to begin surveying sites during the second week 
of December.  Asked if the visit was contingent on finalizing 
the Fundamental Agreement negotiations, Mansour said no, that 
the two were not necessarily related (although he did 
acknowledge that a breakdown in the talks could forestall the 
expected visit).  (Note: The last and only other Papal visit 
to Israel was by John Paul II in 2000.  That visit was hailed 
by Israel as a diplomatic victory symbolizing the full 
normalization of relations with the Vatican.) 
 
--------------------- 
Putting Pius on Hold? 
--------------------- 
 
¶4. (C) Mansour said he also discussed the controversy 
surrounding the beatification of Pope Pius XII with Cardinal 
Walter Kasper on the margins of the last Catholic-Jewish 
Liaison Committee meeting in Budapest November 9-12. 
According to Mansour, Cardinal Kasper, who heads the 
Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, 
told him that Pope Benedict was not likely to move forward 
with the beatification of Pius XII until the Vatican finishes 
the process of opening its archives to outside researchers, 
which is expected to take several more years.  (Note: Recent 
 
TEL AVIV 00002630  002 OF 002 
 
 
moves by Pope Benedict to beatify Pius have been met with 
strong opposition from Israel and international Jewish 
organizations, which remain critical of Pius for failing to 
use his position to speak out more forcefully against the 
systematic murder of Jews during the Holocaust.  Israel has 
not been swayed by the Vatican argument that Pius did more 
behind the scenes to save Jews than is commonly known, and 
has demanded the opening of the Vatican's archives from that 
period as a prelude to any change of heart regarding the 
legacy of Pope Pius.) 
 
 
¶5. (C) COMMENT: Mansour's account of a possible breakthrough 
in the negotiations, followed by a Papal visit in May, would 
be welcome news, if true.  We remain skeptical, however, as 
we have heard the same rosy story about imminent 
breakthroughs and warming GOI-Vatican relations for years, 
yet somehow the promised progress has not materialized.  We 
are also skeptical that the Pope could commit to a visit to 
Israel barring at least some progress in the talks.  We 
understand from Embassy Holy See (Ref. A) that the Pope would 
also find it difficult to visit Israel unless the 
humanitarian situation in Gaza improves markedly.  It is 
perhaps not a good sign that the Pope's own envoy, Nuncio 
Antonio Franco, was himself denied permission to enter Gaza 
November 23 to deliver mass to a Catholic congregation (Ref. 
B). At the same time, Embassy contacts throughout the 
Catholic community continue to assert a constant array of 
problems with Israeli authorities, from getting or renewing 
visas to performing routine maintenance and custodial 
functions at churches, monasteries and holy sites. 
 
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MORENO