Despite harsh opposition from the cabinet secretary, it seems the move to transfer control of the Jerusalem Archaeological Park and the Davidson Center to the Elad-City of David Foundation – which includes the entire southern section of the Western Wall – is proceeding.
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Last week, the Jerusalem District Court approved a compromise agreement between two government subsidiaries – the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem (JQDC, the current owner) and the Company for Reconstruction and Development of East Jerusalem – which would transfer control of the area to Elad. Under the agreement, Elad would cover the rental costs for the JQDC, and in turn receive full control of the site from April 1.
In the coming days, all 25 employees at the site will receive termination letters. They are expected to be reemployed by Elad, according to the agreement between Elad and the JQDC, for at least one additional year.
Transferring control of the site to Elad has aroused concern among leaders of non-Orthodox Jewish groups, who have been in negotiations with the government over the last year regarding creating an alternative prayer site close to the Western Wall that would allow for non-Orthodox or alternative prayer.
The heads of the Reform and Conservative movements stated that if Elad is granted control of the key site, it would effectively end the “Sharansky agreement,” which led to the construction of an alternative prayer site within the archaeological park (a reference to a compromise on the Western Wall outlined by Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky last year).
According to the non-Orthodox leaders, during negotiations regarding the site, they were promised that the archaeological park would remain under government control, and that they themselves would be partners in running the site.
These recent developments apparently contradict messages sent to the non-Orthodox leaders by Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mendelblit, in which he stated that the transfer would not happen. Mendelblit is currently in Washington with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and meetings regarding the subject are scheduled to be held.
The leader of the Conservative Movement in the United States sent a rare letter to Mendelblit, stating that if Elad gains control over the site, the movement will pull out of negotiations with the Israeli government regarding the prayer area. “It is infuriating and unacceptable to find that while this negotiation was going on, other negotiations were taking place to put us under the authority of a group with a right-wing, Orthodox religious point of view,” read the letter.