Israel said it had "no intention" of giving the Vatican sovereignty over King David's Tomb in Jerusalem, AFP reports Wednesday, after hundreds of hareidi Jews protested at the site ahead of Pope Francis's visit later this month.
"Contrary to rumors in Israel, there is no intention to transfer to the Vatican sovereignty or ownership on the Tomb of David or the Cenacle," Israel's ambassador to the Vatican, Zion Evrony, said in a speech obtained on Wednesday.
The Cenacle is the reputed scene of Jesus's last supper, which is built in the same building as King David's Tomb. The pope is planning to hold a mass on the site on Mount Zion near the walls of the Old City.
The site is currently part of long-running negotiations over Holy Land property between Israel and the Vatican, which has hoped to be given the right to use the site.
Israeli officials have continuously denied an upcoming deal, however. Last month, an Israeli diplomatic source told Arutz Sheva that the Israeli government has no intention of transferring control over the site to the Church; those claims were reiterated Sunday, by the office of the Sephardi Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef.
Site transfer or no site transfer?
However, Rabbi Yaakov Sevilia, an activist for King David's Tomb, told Arutz Sheva that there is a deal in the works - which would see David's Tomb given to Christians, and the Temple Mount to Muslims. He cited journalist Gulio Meotti, who contributes regularly to Arutz Sheva, as the source for this knowledge.
MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) has also written a stern letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu over the issue, noting its political significance in terms of Israel's history and heritage.
"It is inconceivable that this place will be transferred to foreign hands, so that the Torahs and the Star of David will be swallowed in a sea of crosses," the Deputy Minister wrote. ''Transferring the rights to the gravesite of David to Christian hands would be similar to Moshe Dayan's decision to entrust the keys to the Temple Mount to the Jordanian Waqf."
Rabbi Simcha HaCohen Kook, Rabbi of Rehovot and member of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, warned recently that the government relinquishing David's Tomb to the Vatican would be a "national disgrace."
He added that the issue has incredible religious implications. "Who knows if this could cause a wave of conversions [to Catholicism]?" he continued. "What will happen in the World to Come when we have to testify [before G-d] and say that we lived in a generation which handed over King David's Tomb? A government who does such a thing is forbidden to belong to the people of Israel, this is an anti-Israeli government."