The right-wing settlement group Elad-City of David Foundation is on the verge of assuming the management of the Jerusalem Archaeological Park and the Davidson Center, which includes the entire southern section of the Western Wall.
A draft agreement has been drawn up between the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem (the JQDC), which owns the area, and Elad.
The agreement came after the government company received a legal opinion that it could sign such a pact without publishing a tender.
Elad already manages the City of David National Park just outside the Old City walls and works to settle Jews in the Palestinian village of Silwan. If the deal goes through, it would significantly expand Elad’s economic and tourism interests in the area, and give it the unprecedented opportunity to tighten the link between Silwan, the City of David and the Western Wall.
Left-wing groups are expected to fight the decision, since it would expand Elad’s foothold in East Jerusalem and further solidify its relationship with state authorities.
Elad is heavily involved in settling Jews in Palestinian homes purchased in Silwan through front men and foreign companies. In addition to running the City of David National Park, Elad conducts activities at the Armon Hanatziv promenade and on the Mount of Olives.
The Jerusalem Archeological Garden, which would come under Elad’s management, includes about two-thirds of the exposed part of the Western Wall and some of Jerusalem’s most important archeological sites, including Robinson’s Arch, stones from the Temples’ destruction, a Herodian street, and the “place of trumpeting” (the corner of the Temple Mount on which the trumpet-blowers stood during the time of the Temple), as well as structural remains from the Islamic period. This is also where a platform was erected several months ago for non-Orthodox groups wishing to hold prayer services and ceremonies within view of the Western Wall.
The site also includes the Davidson Center, a visitors’ center dedicated to exhibits related to the archeological park, including a virtual reconstruction of the Herodian-era Temple Mount.
The possible handover to Elad is the result of a financial dispute between East Jerusalem Development Ltd., which manages the archeological site and the Davidson Center, and the JQDC, which owns the land. The JQDC claimed that East Jerusalem Development had not paid it the rent it owed on the site for several years. In December, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruled in favor of the JQDC and ordered East Jerusalem Development to pay its debt and hand over the site to the JQDC by the end of 2014. As a result, the JQDC began deliberating over new management of the park.
At this point, say sources involved in the discussions, Elad chairman David Be’eri suggested that Elad cover the debts of East Jerusalem Development in exchange for being given control of the site, a proposal that was readily accepted by the JQDC. According to these sources, Elad was an obvious favorite to manage the site because of its experience managing the popular City of David site, as well as the underground tunnel that had been dug between the City of David and the Davidson park in recent years. These archeological excavations, conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by Elad, involved digging a tunnel along a Herodian-era street that runs from the Siloam Pool to the Western Wall. The tunnel was opened to the public three years ago.
The JQDC has also received a legal opinion that it did not need to publish a tender soliciting bids from anyone else to run the site. A draft agreement has been written and is expected to be signed shortly, pending various legal approvals.
The Jerusalem Archeological Garden includes areas outside the Old City walls, in the Ophel area. These lands, which are controlled by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, are apparently not going to be transferred to Elad’s control.
Neither the JQDC nor Elad would comment for this report.