Israel Appeals Decision to Let Right-wing Group Run Site Near Western Wall

Supreme Court appeal claims that deal with Elad restricts government’s role in regulating prayer arrangements at Wall.

A rendering of the planned Kedem complex envisioned by right-wing NGO Elad for Jerusalem.
Israel Nature and Parks Authority

The State Prosecution has appealed to the Supreme Court against a Jerusalem District Court decision to approve an agreement allowing the right-wing City of David Foundation, better known as Elad, to manage the archeological park adjacent to the Western Wall.

The prosecution filed its appeal under privilege but most of the details were cleared for publication following a request submitted by Haaretz to the court.

For around a year the state has been trying to void the deal between Elad, which operates the City of David National Park, and the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter, that would allow Elad to manage the park at the southern edge of the Western Wall and the adjacent Davidson Center, both major tourist attractions.

The government has criticized the agreement, saying it was not approved as required and that it will restrict the government’s freedom of action. Any change of status in that area could have far-reaching security and diplomatic ramifications, since it is a holy enclave, the state claims. Aside from fears it would undermine relations with Jordan and the Palestinians because of the site’s proximity to the Temple Mount, the agreement also disrupted the negotiations between the state and pluralistic Jewish groups that operate a platform for egalitarian prayer in the archeological park.

Shortly after Haaretz revealed the agreement in early 2014, the state filed suit against it in Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court and won, although the court rejected the state’s argument about the area’s political sensitivity and its status as a holy place. But Elad appealed to the district court, which this past October overturned the lower court ruling and reinstated the agreement.

In requesting an appeal, the state said the agreement, “Directly restricts the government’s functioning in a real and practical way, including its role relating to prayer arrangements at the Western Wall Plaza.” As such, the Jewish Quarter development company should have asked the government to approve the agreement before signing it, prosecutors said. Elad argues that just as the Supreme Court approved the agreement it had signed with the Nature and Parks Authority to manage the City of David National Park, it must uphold this agreement.