A Knesset Member said Thursday that Chief Sephardic Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef told him that the Prime Minister's bureau contacted him and asked to grant halakhic permission for Israel to hand over the Tomb of David to the Vatican.
The startling news was revealed by the Knesset Member during a tour of the Tomb of David by four MKs – Yoni Chetboun of the Jewish Home, who initiated the tour, Moshe Feiglin (Likud-Beytenu), Nissim Ze'ev (Shas), and Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism – UTJ).
The MKs were unanimous in declaring that they intend to do everything within their power to forestall any attempt to hand over the Tomb to the Vatican. There are also reports that not just the Tomb, but the entire Mount Zion compound is up for transfer. The MKs made clear that the zone is under Israeli sovereignty and will remain so.
There have been reports, recently, of a secret negotiation channel between the Vatican and the Israeli government, regarding the Tomb – and especially its second floor, which the Vatican calls the “Room of the Last Supper” – and the Mount Zion compound.
Officially, this report was denied by the government, with Deputy Minister Ze'ev Elkin taking to the Knesset podium to state that it was untrue.
However, the government has decided to place the exclusive authority regarding the holy sites in the hands of the prime minister – fueling speculation that a secret deal is indeed in the works.
The Vatican's attempts to gain a sovereign foothold on Mount Zion have been going on for year, but thus far unsuccessfully.
The visit to Israel by Pope Francis is less than a month away. This is a factor in the timing of the MKs' tour of the compound. A representative of the Religions Ministry's Department of Holy Sites was also present.
The MKs promised to pass a law making the Tomb of David an official holy site.
"For many years, the Vatican has been investing large sums in purchasing assets in Jerusalem, with the purpose of blurring the city's Jewish character,” said Chetboun. “This trend must be blocked, and the Basic Law on Jerusalem, which forbids handing over sovereignty on parts of the city to foreign entities, must be enforced. Today's tour is only the beginning of the struggle, and we will bring more MKs here. The Tomb of David is a cornerstone of the city's Jewish history, we must safeguard it.”
MK Feiglin said after the tour, “The attempts to transfer sovereignty over the Tomb of David to the Vatican are a direct continuation of the transfer of sovereignty in the Temple Mount to the Jordanians. The government of Israel is buying a false calm at the price of forfeiting our most sacred sites, under cover of darkness and against the law.”