Jerusalem – Israeli and Vatican delegations, which this week discussed the financial and legal status of Israel’s Christian holy sites, have reached a dead end. According to Vatican sources, relations between the two are on the verge of crisis, and these same sources are also threatening to sever diplomatic ties with Israel.
The Israeli delegation, directed by Israel Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, flew to the Vatican in order to discuss the status of the Vatican’s assets in Israel, and also the Vatican’s demand to receive ownership of the Room of the Last Supper on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion, where, according to Christian tradition, Jesus held the Passover dinner with his 12 disciples before being crucified.
The two committees were unable to reach an agreement on any issue, and decided to postpone their discussions to May 27. A source in the Vatican told the Israeli media that they had been waiting 15 years to reach an agreement with Israel over the status of the holy sites, but that Israeli governments were unable to reach a decision on any matter.
Mr. Ayalon told Ma’ariv that he’d rather not refer to the matter as a crisis, and added that the delegations had decided to part cordially and refrain from speaking of a crisis. “There was no breakthrough, and we therefore agreed to end the meeting with the phrase ‘we have agreed not to agree.’” But the deputy minister also added that “Israeli and Vatican delegations reached an impasse.”
Mr. Ayalon evinced to the Vatican that Israel would not forfeit its sovereignty and possessions in Mount Zion, where the Room of the Last Supper is located – one of the key issues of contention between the two delegations. The Vatican seeks to be the only body to operate the site and to conduct prayers taking place there, whereas Israel opposes this request seeing that according to Jewish faith, King David is buried under the hall.
Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai opposes granting the Vatican exclusive rights to the hall, and also other officials, among them rabbis and organizations dealing with activities in the Jewish Quarter, have asked that the asset remain in Israeli hands.