The Palestinian Authority will not permit Israel to change the entrance to the Temple Mount in order to facilitate the building of an egalitarian prayer area near the Western Wall, PA Religious Affairs Minister Mahmoud Habbash told The Jerusalem Post in Ramallah on Thursday morning.
And any Israeli attempt to “Judaize” holy sites in Jerusalem would be viewed by Arabs and Muslims as a declaration of war, Habbash warned.
Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky’s plan would allow for the construction of an additional section of the Western Wall Plaza at the southern end of the Kotel – equal in size and height to the northern prayer area for egalitarian worship – and accessible as part of one unified Western Wall complex with a single entrance.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has told Sharansky to meet with National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror to deal with sensitive issues surrounding Mughrabi Bridge.
“Any changes in Haram a-Sharif [Temple Mount] are unacceptable to the Palestinians and the Arab side,” Habbash said in a meeting with Israeli journalists organized by the One Voice organization. “It’s a change of our heritage site and I believe such changes may push all of us to new conflicts and problems.”
Habbash, who is a former Hamas member from the Gaza Strip but strongly backs two states for two peoples, said any change in the status quo regarding the Temple Mount must wait until a final-status agreement between Israel and the PA.
“Any changes in this situation will make the problem more difficult,” Habash said.
“We don’t agree to any changes. It’s a Wakf [Islamic trust] place, and Islamic place and we have documents to prove it. You can pray how you want after the liberation of Palestine.”
Habbash said he would agree with Netanyahu that there should be peace talks without preconditions, but only if the prime minister gave guarantees that the talks would not fail like past negotiations. He said he is trying to persuade his people to support a two-state solution but he is concerned that Netanyahu will not be willing to translate his support for a Palestinian state into actions.
“If you believe in two states, where do you imagine it – on the moon?” he asked rhetorically.
Israel is trying to “change the situation inside Jerusalem,” Habbash told the PA’s Voice of Palestine radio station.
“Israel is trying to change the status quo,” he charged. “This would be considered a turning of the tables in the face of all.”
He added: “How can there be negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel in light of these practices against the rights of the Palestinians? How can there ever be any peace process with Israel?” Meanwhile, PA Foreign Minister Riad Malki condemned statements by Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, who said in a series of interviews in the past few days that a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 lines would not be acceptable for some of his government colleagues.
Danon was quoted as saying that the governing coalition was “strongly opposed to a two-state solution and would block the creation of a Palestinian state if such a proposal ever came to a vote.”
Malki said that Danon’s statements “expose the real face of the occupations and its leaders and the true strategy pursued by Israeli governments since 1967.”
Malki has dispatched letters to the UN secretary-general, foreign ministers of several countries and the Arab League drawing their attention to Danon’s statements, which he said jeopardized the peace process.
He urged the international community to hold Israel responsible for the failure of US efforts to revive the peace talks, adding that Danon’s statements were aimed at thwarting US Secretary of State John Kerry’s mission to restart the peace process.