After years of demands from archaeologists and others concerned with the Temple Mount, the Prime Minister has instructed officials to begin judicial proceedings against Muslim religious authorities for destructive activities.

 
Currently the activity concerns the construction of toilets and showers for Muslims who come to pray. Over the years there have been massive excavations under the surface to expand existing areas (Solomon's stables) and to turn them into prayer halls for occasions when tens of thousands cannot find room to pray in al Aqsa or on the extensive plaza that covers most of the mountain.
 
Along the way to these activities, Muslim builders have shown wanton disregard for Judaic relics of Temples that their religious authorities insist never existed. They dumped tons of refuse from their excavations that Israeli researchers have sifted for whatever they could find.
 
By all signs, senior Israeli government officials have let the destruction continue, rather than ignite the explosive tinder represented by Muslim vs Jewish competition for the sacred place.
 
How many deaths--Jewish as well as Muslim--are worth the ability of archaeologists to find material to substantiate what all literate and reasonable people can perceive in the Hebrew Bible and non-Judaic sources that describe the Temple that existed a millennium before the birth of Mohammad?
 
Why now, has the Prime Minister decided to move?
 
This question leaves unanswered what we cannot now know, i.e., how assiduous will he be, against what are likely to be reservations from the Shit Bet, Police, and other security forces who worry about provoking large scale violence, and the general practice of Israeli prosecutors and courts to dither, sometime for years, when a hot potato lands on their table?
 
One speculation begins with the Hebrew for the Temple Mount, i.e., הר הבית. The tradition is to use the word for house, i.e., בית, for the Temple.
 
This allows Israeli wags in the present generation to wonder if the Prime Minister is trying to attract attention to one house in order to distract attention from another house. In short, getting the media to focus on the Temple Mount may relieve pressure at home due to the media's preoccupation with Sara.
 
Another possibility is that this is the Prime Minister's way of distracting world attention away from a peace process, whether it is the one engineered by the French President or the one engineered by the Egyptian President.
 
Both the Prime Minister and his new Defense Minister made headlines by affirming their commitment to a "two-state solution," but if the Muslims begin to riot in order to maintain a monopoly of what they call the Noble Sanctuary, or Haram Esh-Sharif, Bibi will have yet another reason to put aside what he  perceives as hopeless negotiations with Palestinians.
 
There are several political balls currently in the air. 
 
The Prime Minister is cooperating with the Russians in Syria, perhaps to help a stabilizing Assad against radical Islamists, despite the offense that this cooperation might cause to the Obama government, as well as anti-Assad Muslim regimes (Saudi Arabia and Turkey) with which Israel seeks accommodation.
 
Israeli peace activists are seeing some reason for optimism in statements of the Prime Minister and Defense Minister about the two-state solution and the possibility of working with Egyptian President al-Sisi and other Arab regimes along with the Palestinians.
 
Cynics see this as Netanyahu's way of countering France, the US, and other western governments who are cooking their own scheme for Israel and the Palestinians.
 
Yet another ball in the air is the demand of non-Orthodox Jews, especially Americans, for developing a portion of the Western Wall for the own rituals, involving men and women praying together.
 
A delegation of Reform and Conservative American Rabbis has threatened the Prime Minister with a deterioration in relations between Israel and American Jews if he does not move forward with the plan ostensibly agreed.
 
Against this, however, are pressures from Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews, who view their Reform and Conservative competitors as followers of "another religion," and Muslim religious authorities. The latter see any Israeli construction within sight of al Aqsa as threatening their own holy site, and have threatened local and international commotions if any construction begins.
 
Some are convinced that the Prime Minister is interested in nothing more that keeping his government in office. To do this, he may be making a gesture about the Temple Mount to satisfy the Orthodox settlers and Temple Mount activists who cluster around Jewish Home and his own Likud, even though he may thereby be worrying or amusing his allies in Torah Judaism (ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi) and SHAS (ultra-Orthodox Sephardi), who insist on waiting for the Messiah to recreate the Temple, and meanwhile urge Jews to avoid the Temple Mount. 
 
The Prime Minister's ultra-Orthodox allies are at least as assiduous as his Orthodox allies in opposing any concessions to non-Orthodox Judaisms alongside the Western Wall.
 
Bibi may be provoking action focused on the Temple Mount as a way of providing him time to deal with his various Jewish constituencies, in Israel and abroad, who view one another with considerable animosity.
 
There is reason for black humor as well as deep depression in all that can be said about the Temple Mount, and its role in Jewish, Muslim, and world politics. 
 
What may be happening is nothing more dramatic than a politician trying to distract attention on a problematic spouse, and hoping that others will respond in ways other than intense rioting that--in a worse case scenario--can escalate to a regional war.
 
Comments welcome
-- 
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem



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