Christian leaders reportedly pressured Israel to turn over control of Mount Zion in Jerusalem during a clandestine meeting of senior city officials.
The meeting took place Tuesday in the office of Attorney Amnon Merhav, the director-general of the Jerusalem municipality. It was attended by officials from the Prime Minister’s Office, President’s Office, Tourism Ministry, Police, Kotel Rabbi’s Office, and more.
During the meeting, representatives of Christian groups in the capital pushed Jerusalem leaders to give the Catholic Church control over the Mount Zion area that includes the “Hall of the Last Supper.” There have been reports that Israel’s government is planning to turn the building in question over to the Vatican prior to the Pope’s expected visit in May.
Pope Francis is expected to visit Israel and to lead a service in the Hall of the Last Supper.
The same building that houses the hall, which is holy to Christianity, also includes the tomb of King David, a holy site frequently visited by Jews. Some Church officials expressed upset over what they termed a major increase recently in the number of Jewish visitors to the site.
Representatives of the Israel Police and Shin Bet who were at the meeting warned that turning the building over to the Church could spark Jewish “price tag” attacks.
Several Members of Knesset and ministers have asked the Prime Minister to respond to rumors that he is planning to give control of the Mount Zion compound to the Vatican. To date, the Prime Minister’s Office and Foreign Ministry have refused to respond, although Deputy Foreign Minister Zev Elkin stated in mid-2013 that the government has no such plans.
In response to reports regarding the Tuesday meeting, the city of Jerusalem released a statement saying, “The state of Israel and the Jerusalem municipality are paying special attention to the Mount Zion compound, with the goal of improving and updating the infrastructure and the municipal service, and of calming tension… The municipality will continue to lead the process as the central sovereign power on Mount Zion.”
The Prime Minister’s Office declined to respond.