An Israeli police officer checks the identity of a Palestinian man next to newly installed metal detectors at an entrance to the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City July 16, 2017..
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
The status quo at the Temple Mount has been slowly eroding since 1996, according to two experts, who said the way to calm tensions in the current crisis is by implementing less visible security measures and dialogue with all stakeholders.
At an event organized by Media Central in Jerusalem on Monday, Alan Baker, the director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and Middle East studies professor Yitzhak Reiter discussed the current crisis surrounding security at the Temple Mount and contextualized it within the history of the holy site’s status quo.
When the Temple Mount was captured in June 1967, the government allowed the Jordanian-instituted Wakf Muslim religious trust to govern the holy site, in order to alleviate tensions with the Muslim world. The Chief Rabbinate ruled that Jews are not permitted to enter the Temple Mount.
For almost 30 years, the status quo of Israel permitting the Wakf to administer the holy site remained mostly undisturbed.
According to Reiter, there was close cooperation between Israeli authorities and the Wakf. But in September 1996, Israel opened the Western Wall Tunnels into the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, a move seen by Palestinians as a change in the status quo. Since then, Baker and Reiter agree, the status quo has been eroding and tensions have been inflamed.
Any time Israel makes unilateral moves on the Temple Mount, Reiter claims, it leads to conflict and ultimately less Israeli sovereignty over the holy site. He charges that authorities should have known better than to install metal detectors without consulting the Wakf or the Palestinian Authority.
“Strategically, it was a mistake to put the metal detectors [there] without assessing the reaction,” he said.
Reiter stressed the importance of dialogue between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians going forward. He also said that Israel must find ways to protect worshipers on the Temple Mount that are less visible and “offensive.”
“Perhaps there are some other facilities that can be installed, or less visible facilities, different facilities, like cameras or whatever, or intelligence or whatever, that could be an agreement between the parties,” he said.
Baker emphasized Israel’s mandate and responsibility to protect the Temple Mount. He views the issue as mainly one of security.
“Israel has a full right to conduct all security measures it considers necessary,” he said.
Whether one views Israel’s claim that Jerusalem is a regular part of Israel as legitimate, or views Israel as “occupying” the holy city, it is undeniable that the Jewish state has the right to secure the Temple Mount, he said.
Though he has no real practical suggestion, Baker said the security measures must be changed.
“Let the Palestinians and the Israelis fire a holy satellite into space that would photograph everything that goes on on the Temple Mount, and then nobody would feel an intrusion. Whether that is practical or not, I don’t know,” he suggested.
Baker worked on the negotiation and drafting of the Oslo Accords. He is a former ambassador to Canada, and served as legal adviser and deputy director-general of the Foreign Ministry. Reiter is the chairman of the Land-of-Israel studies department at Ashkelon Academic College.
A senior researcher at the Hebrew University, he served as a deputy Arab affairs adviser for prime ministers Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres.