A view of the Western Wall plaza, the Dome of the Rock and the top of Al Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi attempted to placate American Jewish leaders upset about his government reneging on its Western Wall agreement by telling them Monday that the egalitarian prayer site being upgraded at the Wall would be attractive.
Physical upgrades to the egalitarian section at the southern end of the Western Wall began on February 5 after a more comprehensive plan was indefinitely frozen last June.
Netanyahu ordered NIS 17 million in physical improvements as a way of placating the progressive Jewish movements after the comprehensive deal was suspended. The improvements are also designed to satisfy the High Court of Justice’s demand to grant non-Orthodox denominations access to the Wall equal to that of Orthodox worshipers.
Speaking to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem, Hanegbi called the Kotel deal “a good agreement and a very creative scenario and structure that was accepted by everyone.” But he said religious parties changed their position after they were attacked in their constituency and threatened Netanyahu that they would quit his government.
“The prime minister had to accept their demands to suspend the agreement,” said Hanegbi, a member of the Likud who was appointed by Netanyahu to mediate on the issue. “But he made a decision to implement most of the agreement based on his own decision, rather than the government as a whole.”
Hanegbi said the two parts of the agreement that would not be implemented were an entrance from the Western Wall plaza and the Reform and Conservative Movements receiving formal government authorization to administer the egalitarian prayer site.
“The work is being done to revamp the area, which will be a beautiful place that will be friendly and attractive, to really draw people so that Reform and Conservative Jews won’t feel they were cast aside,” said Hanegbi, who revealed that he would visit Reform and Conservative leaders in the US when he attends the annual Jerusalem Post Conference in April.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) told the Conference of Presidents that reneging on the deal was a mistake.
“Agreements reached in good faith must be honored,” he said.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid noted that the agreement was negotiated by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit when he was cabinet secretary.
“The solution was not great, but everyone was equally unhappy, which is the best you can do with Jews,” Lapid said. “The government of Israel has to be the government of the Jewish people. When I get elected, the Western Wall agreement will be implemented.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog told the Jewish leaders that they have to work together to find a way to solve this, “because this is a great challenge in our generation.”