Beit Hanassi has issued a statement categorically denying that President Moshe Katsav will sign a land transfer agreement with Pope Benedict XVI when they meet on November 17 giving the Church control over the room of the Last Supper.
The reports, which have appeared in various media outlets in the world and raised a storm among Jewish bloggers on the Internet, claimed that in return the Vatican would cede to Spain's Jewish community the site of what was once an ancient synagogue in Toledo. The reports allegedly emanated from the Vatican.
When Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council of Religious Relations with the Jews, came to Israel last week to participate in 40th anniversary celebrations of Nostra Aetate, The Jerusalem Post asked him whether there would be a signing ceremony. While he did not conceal that he would welcome such a development Kasper said that no document would be signed. Katsav said that he had read reports, but knew nothing of the matter.
The Post published the denial, the report of which was picked up by other publications. However, the rumors and media reports to the contrary persisted.
Avi Granot, the president's political adviser, was asked this week whether there was any change of plan. Granot stated bluntly that Katsav would not be signing any document in the Vatican next week.
As the date for the presidential visit to Rome looms, Granot has found himself the target of increasing media inquiries. This time, instead of giving verbal assurances that there would be no handover at this stage, Granot chose to clarify the issue in writing.
"There is no foundation for the rumors; there is no agreement and there was no discussion about an agreement," he declared in the written statement.
There may not have been discussion between the President's office and the Vatican, but there has been an ongoing dispute between the Catholic Church and the State of Israel over the legal status of Catholic institutions in the Holy Land.
The Church may have assumed that sufficient progress had been made in efforts to resolve the dispute to let it be known that it was gaining control of the room of the Last Supper which is located in David's Tomb on Mount Zion.
At this stage, Israel is not prepared to relinquish a site that has such enormous historic and religious significance for Jews as well as Christians. In fact the site also houses a yeshiva which would have to be evacuated if control was ceded to the Church.