Will Israel bypass Palestinians to upgrade Tomb of Patriarchs?

MK Gabi Ashkenazi (Blue and White) said that upgrades are “humanitarian” and not “political”

The Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must seize planning powers from Hebron’s Palestinian municipality in order to advance a project that would make the Tomb of the Patriarchs wheelchair accessible, the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee (FADC) said on Monday.
“There is no point in delaying anymore," former justice minister and Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked told the FADC during the meeting.
If a tender is issued for the NIS 5 million project by the end of March, an elevator and an access path could be completed within a year.
At present there is no handicap accessibility to the tomb, which can be reached only by climbing up several flights of stone stairs.
The structure, built 2,000 years ago by King Herod, serves as both a Jewish synagogue and a Muslim mosque; each worship space has its own entry way. The structure is on UNESCO's List of endangered World Heritage sites and is registered under the "State of Palestine” along with Hebron’s Old Town, where the tomb is located.
The Israeli military has control of the tomb and the section of Hebron where it is located. But under the terms of a 1997 agreement, the Palestinian municipality is in charge of construction projects in the city, including those connected to the tomb.
Israel is supposed to first obtain authorization for the project from Hebron’s municipality or seize planning power.
A building permit for the project could be issued by Israel by the end of the month, Civil Administration head Brig.-Gen. Ghassan Alyan told the FADC. But plans can be deposited for the projected only if it's done through the his office since the Palestinians have decided not to cooperate on the project with Israel. The legal department is examining the matter of issuing an injunction, he said, but authorization for that can only be given by the upper echelon.
Alyan noted that the situation in Judea and Samaria was very sensitive –  and has recently become even more so – and that each action taken with regard to the project would need a situational assessment.
Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman MK Gabi Ashkenazi (Blue and White) said that the matter here was a “humanitarian one” and not a “political one.” There have already been two committee discussions on the issue during the last two years, he said.
It’s “unacceptable” that there is no handicap access to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, Ashkenazi said. “I understand that there is a kind of complexity here,” he said. But all attempts to hold a dialogue with the Palestinians on the issue have failed and therefore, “we need to act independently.”