Israel considers giving holy sites to Vatican

Israeli President Shimon Peres has suggested that Israel give up sovereignty of Christian holy sites to the Vatican, according to a report on the Israeli Army Radio on Monday.

According to the report the President is urging the government to give control of six key sites to the Vatican, including the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the Coenaculum on Mount Zion and the Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem and the Church of the Multiplication on the Kinneret.

However, the plan is reportedly being opposed by the Israeli Interior Minister, Eli Yishai, whose department reportedly refused to sign documents on Sunday handing over sovereignty to the Vatican.

Yishai was quoted as saying, "Every concession like this limits the Israeli government's ability to function as a sovereign government in the area … I am certain that the aim of the pope's visit [from 11-15 May] is not to cause damage, and not to gain sovereignty," reports the Jerusalem Post.

Stas Meseznikov, the Israeli Tourism Minister said of the proposal, "If we were sure that this present to the Christian world would bring millions of Christian pilgrims here, then we would have a good reason to think about it … But since we're not sure that it will happen, why should we give out gifts?"

Former Meretz chair Yossi Beilin, however, was quoted in the report as saying that Israel had not behaved satisfactorily in recent dealings with the Vatican: "We need to compromise with them."

The Army Radio report also quoted Beit Hanassi as saying that the negotiations had been going on for long enough, and that the time had come to compromise with the Vatican and come to an agreement.

Should Israel give up sovereignty of the sites they would legally become the property of the Vatican. As a result any works such as paving roads or laying water, sewerage or electrical infrastructure would need to receive permission from the Vatican.

The Pope will visit the Holy Land from 11 to 15 May.