Only Israel can uphold freedom of worship at Jerusalem’s Christian holy sites, Avinoam Bar-Yosef, the head of the Jewish People Policy Institute, said Saturday at the closing of the think tank’s three-day conference in Jerusalem.

Bar-Yosef said panelists debating the future of the city at the conference were split over whether the government should reach a territorial compromise with Palestinians or not, but were in near consensus that only Israel could provide adequate security to Christian sites like the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City.

“One of our biggest conclusions was that we should not entrust the Palestinians with protecting the right of worship for Christians,” Bar-Yosef said. “To a large extent Christians are pleased with Israel providing security [rather] than Palestinians.”

Bar-Yosef said this was to do with the plight of Christians in Gaza under Hamas and the emigration of Christians from West Bank cities like Bethlehem, where Christians have lost their historically held majority.

The former Ma’ariv journalist said it was too early to talk in-depth over the rest of the discussions and that over the following weeks his team of analysts would go over their data and release their recommendations.

He did, however, elaborate a little on Israel-Diaspora relations.

The equation between the two was changing, he said. For the first time Israel was in a position where it could provide funds to help Jews abroad.

Quoting ideas raised during the sessions, Bar-Yosef said he believed Israel should become more involved in reaching out to the Diaspora and allocate special funds to accomplish that goal.

He added: “There were two more groups worth mentioning: One was focused on European Jewry. For the first time we had representatives come from all over the continent and talk about demographic and sociological trends.

The other is the conversion bill panel where different streams of Judaism came together to try and find a solution to this problem.”

Responding to a question which raised the issue, Bar-Yosef strongly defended his think tank’s independence, saying it was not afraid to submit recommendations that were not in line with government policy if it thought they benefited the Jewish people. “The institute has a board of directors including people like [former US ambassador to the EU] Stuart Eizenstat who would not lend it their name if it weren’t,” he said. “What determines the independence of an institute is the material it publishes,” he added.

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