Republican US Presidential candidate and real estate mogul Donald Trump is planning a visit to the Temple Mount when he comes to Israel for the first time at the end of the month.
A source closely connected to organizing the trip confirmed to The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that Trump’s staff is looking into the logistics of visiting the holy site and point of conflict between Israel and the Arab world.
The planned visit follows Trump’s call for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on,” in light of what he said was “great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population.”
Palestinians have often used Israeli politicians’ visits to the Mount as an excuse for violence, alleging Israel is changing the status quo, which Israel denies.
The government maintains the status quo, in that non-Muslims may visit, but not pray on the Wakf Islamic Trust administered Temple Mount, the site of two of Islam’s holiest sites, al-Aksa mosque and the Dome of the Rock shrine.
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Jewish visitors are often harassed at the holy site, and earlier this year, a delegation of US congressmen visiting the plaza also complained of harassment by Wakf guards.
Palestinian claims about the Temple Mount reached a fever pitch in recent months and the controversy has contributed to sparking the current wave of terrorism. At the outset of the violence, police found explosives hidden in al-Aksa. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been accused by media watchers of claiming Jews’ feet defile the site.
A security source said Trump would probably not be allowed to visit the Temple Mount, the Post’s sister publication Ma’ariv reported.
The source said that when the current wave of terrorism began, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu banned all politicians from visiting the site. The source added that Trump’s visit is meant to be a provocation, so security forces are likely to bar him from ascending the mount.
Netanyahu on Wednesday rejected Trump’s remarks regarding Muslims, but officials suggested his December 28 meeting with Trump would go ahead as planned.
“The State of Israel respects all religions and protects stringently the rights of all its citizens,” a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office said.
“At the same time, Israel is struggling with extremist Islam that is attacking Muslims, Christian and Jews as one and is threatening the entire world.”
The statement said Netanyahu’s meeting with Trump was scheduled two weeks ago, and that the PM, previous to that, had established a policy of meeting with every candidate who comes to Israel.
“This policy does not reflect support for the candidates or their policies, but rather expresses the importance that the PM attributes to the strong alliance between Israel and the United States.”
Netanyahu’s spokesman confirmed that the prime minister is willing to meet with any US presidential candidate who visits Israel.
But politicians across Israel’s political spectrum put pressure on Netanyahu to cancel the meeting in light of Trump’s latest remarks.
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal- On said such a meeting would be a “slap in the face to Muslim citizens of Israel.”
“It is embarrassing that Netanyahu is willing to legitimize Trump as a reasonable candidate who is worth a meeting with a head of state,” Gal- On said. “Netanyahu’s willingness to meet with Trump despite his serious racist statements authorizes what the prime minister’s statements showed about him long ago: That there has never been such a racist, irresponsible prime minister.”
A petition circulated by Meretz’s Michal Rozin asking that the meeting be canceled was signed by 37 MKs, including two from the coalition: Roy Folkman (Kulanu) and Ya’acov Margi (Shas).
MK Michael Oren (Kulanu) said Netanyahu is in a difficult position.
While Trump has said things that offended Muslims, Latinos, women and others, he could be elected president and it could hurt US-Israel relations if Netanyahu snubbed him.
Trump has not asked to go to the Knesset during his trip to Israel, but that did not stop several MKs from saying he should be banned from the legislature because of his comments about Muslims.
“As far as it depends on me, this racist Donald Trump should not be welcome in the Knesset,” MK Omer Bar-Lev (Zionist Union) tweeted.
MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List) wrote on Twitter: “I asked [Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein] to ban neo-Nazi Trump and all Trumps from entering the Knesset, though his statements are not strange to some racists in the Knesset.”
Tibi also retweeted a graphic comparing Trump to Adolf Hitler.
MK Esawi Frej (Meretz) asked Interior Minister Silvan Shalom to ban Trump from entering the country.
MK Taleb Abu Arar (Joint List) protested Trump’s plans to visit the Temple Mount, saying, “If Trump the racist plans to visit al-Aksa, the holiest place in the world for Muslims, to harm the sensitivities of people against whom he incites, he and Netanyahu will be responsible.”