Israel has secretly informed the pope and senior Vatican officials that it is ready to reach a deal according to which it will transfer sovereignty of Kever David on Har Tzion to the Vatican, along with six Christian sites around the country. In exchange, Israel will receive permission to nationalize land that is under Christian control on the shores of the Kinneret.
After heavy Christian pressure, which has been applied for the past 60 years, the government is caving in now, specifically under Prime Minister Netanyahu, and is deciding to approve agreements drafted by former deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon. He conducted ongoing secret negotiations with
the church, along with Bahij Mansour, the head of religion in the Diaspora division of the Foreign Ministry.
Experts on the Christian world warn that this is a step that is liable to lead to a conflict that can harm Jews around the world. Hamodia’s reporter reveals that according to the deal just recently completed between Israel and the Vatican, Israel will transfer property and rights on Har Tzion, primarily around the area of the kever of David Hamelech, which according to the Christians is an important site in the life of the founder of Christianity.
Deputy Foreign Minister Zev Elkin, who learned of the deal as soon as he entered his current position, succeeded in adding several amendments to the deal, according to which Jewish access to Kever David will remain unhindered, although there will be only one direction from which they can enter.
The agreements also include far-reaching Israeli concessions on ownership of six sites that the Christians consider holy, such as Har Tavor, part of Caesarea, and large churches in Nazareth and the Galil. Some of these sites are already under church control, but they do not own them, and the boundaries of the properties were never clearly defined. Now the properties will be specifically defined, and the church will assume ownership of them.
Israel has also acceded to the Vatican’s demand to cancel completely or greatly reduce property and municipal taxes on all churches in Israel.
In recent days, all senior bishops in the Catholic church have received an official announcement from the Vatican about the completion of the deal with Israel. The letter contains praise for the Israeli government, which, after decades, accepted all of the Vatican’s demands.
The letter informs the bishop that the complex over Kever David will become a massive Catholic center in which extensive resources will be invested, and that complete control over the site, including opening hours and responsibility for the surrounding property, will become the sole purview of the Vatican.
The letter says that non-Catholic churches and groups will be able to enter the site, but only by advance arrangement with the Catholic management.
Dr. Yitzchak Minravi, an eminent expert in Israel-Vatican relations and an expert on the Christian world, warned two years ago that giving over control of Kever David, and with it the room that the Christians and Catholics link directly to the life of their founder, is liable to trigger a war among the different streams of Christianity, and Jews around the world will be the primary victims.
According to Dr. Minravi, the argument over the sovereignty of Har Tzion has been going on for hundreds of years, and during the era when the Muslims controlled the land, they firmly refused to allow the Christians (or the Jews) any access to the site.
As such, the Christians were pleased when Israel captured Har Tzion in the War of Independence in 1948, and since then they have been pressuring the Israeli government to transfer sovereignty of the mountain to them. However, all governments have refused —until now.
Dr. Minravi believes that Israel must not, under any circumstances, give Kever David over to the Vatican because it will violate the interreligious status quo that has been in place since 1882, when the Ottomans issued an order under which they divided all the holy sites among different religions. They created a situation of calm that will now be violated, and the Muslims will also begin to demand control over the site.
“If Israel transfers sovereignty of the site to the Catholics, it can bring about a war, and if there are wars between the Christians, we will be harmed by it,” Dr. Minravi said. “There has already been such a war in the nineteenth century because of a small item that was stolen from a church in the Old City of Yerushalayim.”