Monday, May 4, 2009

The Weekly N&C for May 4th, 2009

Two thousand years in the making

Roughly speaking, that is; but who’s counting? So at the risk of leaving the impression that one has wandered into an episode of "Mysterious Missives of the Monastic Mystics" on some cable channel, let’s drag this out a bit. What if…?

. One of the avowed goals of Orthodox Judaism could be made real, or proven forever lost.

.. The Vatican could regain control *and sovereignty* over many of the Christian pilgrimage sites of the Holy Land for the first time since, well, since the end of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

… A real and lasting accommodation could be reached between Israel and the Vatican, and thus with the largest Christian faction still inclined to support Palestinian Arab causes over those of the nation of Israel.

…. But,

….. The cost would be the opening of a legal door through which Islamic states could claim exclusive rights to the grounds of Mount Moriah and all the structures thereon.

…… The same Mount Moriah known as Har haBáyit (The Temple Mount) and as al-haram al-qudsī ash-sharīf (The Noble Sanctuary).

If you were to speak for the Government of Israel, would *you* make that deal?

Or a deal that looked a lot like that?

Well it seems that, if your name is President Shimon Peres of Israel, you might just try to pull it off.

Alright; enough with the Raiders-of-the-Lost-Da-Vinci-Code talk. But really, there is something very serious about all this, and the above-linked article only touches upon just how incredibly convoluted a territorial and material sovereignty issue is being brought to the fore in the weeks before the May 11th ~15th Papal visit to Israel and the Palestine Territories.

The short form is this: Various sects of various Abrahamic religions have claim to various sites considered sacred in their various traditions within the boundaries of the former Palestine Mandate Territory. Several of them claim the same places, but not the same structures. All of them have pressed these claims for centuries (millennium in many cases) and in regard to a few of the sites have reached accommodation with rivals to either share or partition access to them. But from the perspective of legal jurisdiction, those sites that are within the boundaries of Israel are Israeli territory, and those within the Palestinian National Authority are to be part of PNA territory at the time of a two-state resolution to the occupation thereof by Israel.

So to take the example of the Church of the Nativity, considered sacred by both Christianity and Islam: it is administered jointly by Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Armenian Apostolic authorities; it is physically located in Beit Lahm (Bethlehem) in the PNA-administered West Bank; it is under obligatory protection by the Israeli occupation. The sovereignty issue is purely one of recognizing the PNA; once a Palestinian state comes fully into being that site will be within that sovereign territory… except the extant agreements on the administration of the site grant some privileges to the religious occupants. But the territoriality of the site is not in question.

The same sort of arrangement has traditionally been offered regarding the various sites fully under Israeli control, whether Jewish, Christian and/or Moslem, even granting privileges to the administration of the Qubbat as-Sakhra (Dome of the Rock) and the al Masjid al-Aqsa (al-Aqsa Mosque) under an Islamic trust. But these are *arrangements*, not concessions of sovereignty. The PNA would love to have sovereign control of the Noble Sanctuary in its entirety, though... more on that below.

In about a week, there will be a visit to the Holy Land by Pope Benedict XVI. Apparently, President Shimon Peres of Israel has instructed his office to pressure the government to transfer sovereignty over six Christian sites to the Vatican.


On Sunday, according to the report, Beit Hanassi requested that the Interior Ministry sign documents conceding sovereignty on the sites, however the interior minister refused.

Yishai was quoted as saying that he opposes all yielding of sovereignty.
"Beit Hanassi" is the Presidential House of Israel; "Yishai" is Interior Minister Eli Yishai, the cabinet minister who would be actually responsible for proposing such a matter to the government.

It would be entirely reasonable at this point to ask “Why on Earth would the government of Israel create extraterritorial enclaves for Christian holy sites, especially given the claims of other religions to their respective sites?”

It can’t be about money; no compensation has apparently been offered.

It *might* be about something else, though. The Temple Treasures.

There is the vaguest possibility that, contrary to all denials by the Vatican to date, the Holy See does have in its possession (somewhere) what remains of the relics of the Second Temple that were taken as prize by the Roman Empire (as immortalized by the depiction of the sack on the Arch of Titus in Rome).

At least one researcher has made the claim that the Treasures might still exist, and has an idea who controls them now.

If, and I’ll grant that is a *big* if, the Vatican has the ability to see to the transfer of those remaining relics to the nation of Israel, that would be an answer to one of the dreams of the Orthodox sects of Judaism; to have the valued items of the Second Temple restored to Jerusalem.

But, with all things comes a price.

To establish the precedent of granting extraterritoriality to the six sites desired by the Vatican throws open the door to the claims upon the Noble Sanctuary… which, in case it hasn’t come to mind yet, is built upon Mount Moriah; the very ground believed by the faithful (and a lot of researchers) to be the site of the Second Temple.

Should Israel set aside most all normal diplomatic concerns and grant extraterritoriality to the Vatican claims, the most likely result will be a hardening of the Islamic Arab claim to the Noble Sanctuary. If that were to occur, Israel would be faced with the choice of granting some kind of equivalent status to the Islamic claims, or finding that the slim hope of ever resolving the Palestinian issue by an agreed two-state solution have been dashed upon the rocks of disappointment.

Given how badly things have gone with Gaza, and given the level of support that can be expected at this time from Israel’s traditionally closest ally, it probably isn’t worth it.

The Pope is coming to visit, with or without this matter being resolved.

Offer him a nice visit. Be nice to the pilgrims that will come to be a part of his visit.

But don’t offer extraterritorial sovereignty for the six sites. Formalize an “accommodation”, or grant further “privileges”, but don’t give them away for all the treasure in the world.

Otherwise, someone else will be lined up to “get what’s his”… even if it is yours.

End Notes:

Most all citations are linked in the text above.

The Vatican has issued a statement to the media on the coming visit, which addresses several other matters but does not mention the issue of seeking sovereignty over the six sites.

General Information on the particular sites and public figures mentioned in this article and in the linked citations can be found at Wikipedia. The usual rule applies: check all the sources cited by the Wiki-p entry.

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