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– Twenty-First Century Crusades?
The Vatican expressing special interest in the
Temple Mount and other holy sites in Jerusalem.
to yield sites to Vatican'
By ABE SELIG AND JERUSALEM POST STAFF
President Shimon Peres is willing to hand over Israeli sovereignty of
key Christian holy sites to the Vatican, a proposition that is
reportedly opposed by Interior Minister Eli Yishai and that has ruffled
feathers among other senior government officials, Army Radio reported on
Beit Hanassi could not be reached for comment on Monday, as it does not
issue statements to the press while the president is abroad.
According to the radio report, the president is exerting pressure on the
government to give up sovereignty over six sites, including the Church
of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the Coenaculum on Mount Zion,
Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, and the Church of the
Multiplication on the Kinneret.
The report quoted Beit Hanassi as saying that talks had been going on
long enough, and that the time had come to compromise with the Vatican
and come to an agreement.
On Sunday, according to the report, Beit Hanassi requested that the
Interior Ministry sign documents ceding sovereignty. However, Yishai
"Every concession like this limits the Israeli government's ability to
function as a sovereign government in the area," the interior minister
was quoted as saying.
Referring to Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming visit to the region on May
11-15, Yishai said, "I'm certain that the aim of the pope's visit is not
to cause damage and not to gain sovereignty."
Relinquishing sovereignty over the sites would mean they would legally
belong to Vatican City, and that any Israeli request to pave roads or
lay water, sewage or electrical infrastructure would have to be approved
by the Vatican.
But Rabbi David Rosen, chairman of the International Jewish Committee
for Inter-religious Consultations (IJCIC), who spoke about the pope's
upcoming visit during a press conference at The Israel Project's office
in Jerusalem on Monday, said this was not the first time the topic had
been broached, and that he believed one of the main sticking points was
over the Coenaculum.
"This is a site that has been identified as a Muslim holy site as well,"
Rosen said. "And while the Vatican wants it to be recognized as a
Christian holy site, it could be viewed as an Israeli move to take the
site away from the Muslims and give it to the Christians. Furthermore,
once you change the status quo [regarding holy sites], it can come back
to haunt you."
As such, Rosen explained that while the issue might come up again while
the pope was here, the proposal, and especially the idea of ceding
control over the Coenaculum, would likely not be approved.
"Every time [this issue] comes up, it gets rejected," he said. "But the
pope recognizes Israel's sovereignty over holy sites, and the Vatican
has no theological problem with Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem."
Still, others in the government said they weren't opposed to the idea
out of hand, and questioned the possible benefits the transfer of
sovereignty could bring to the economy.
"If we were sure that this present to the Christian world would bring
millions of Christian pilgrims here, then we would have a good reason to
think about it," Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov was quoted as saying
in the report. "But since we're not sure that it will happen, why should
we give out gifts?"
Former Meretz chairman Yossi Beilin, however, was quoted as saying that
Israel had not behaved satisfactorily in recent dealings with the
"We need to compromise with them," he said.