Netanyahu adviser leaves without resolving Western Wall issue

PMO says new chief of staff, Yoav Horowitz, will handle matter

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touches the stones of the Western Wall (photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touches the stones of the Western Wall
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief of staff, David Sharan, left his position without finding a solution to the controversy over egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall.
Netanyahu had asked Sharan to deal with the matter, but he did not complete his task. He held the post from the end of May until the beginning of August. Sharan was not available for comment Wednesday.
The director of the Reform Movement in Israel, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, said that Sharan had not made any progress since he was tasked with coming up with bridging proposals after implementation of the Western Wall agreement stalled earlier this year.
Sharan met with representatives from the haredi political parties and the progressive Jewish movements in recent months, but neither side was willing to back down from their positions. The haredi parties refuse to implement the agreement and the Reform and Conservative movements together with Women of the Wall refuse to renegotiate the plan.
“Unfortunately, we don’t think there is going to be any progress through the efforts of the Prime Minister’s Office to resolve this,” said Kariv.
He also said the non-Orthodox denominations do not believe that a resolution depends on any particular personality or staff member in the PMO other than the prime minister himself.
Kariv added that the progressive movements view the attitude of the state to them as having deteriorated in recent months, following the passage of the highly contentious Mikve Law; a ruling by the attorney-general that prayer services could not be conducted in the upper Western Wall plaza; and the ongoing refusal of the state to allow Torah scrolls to be brought into the women’s prayer section.
Kariv said that one possible outcome, which the Reform and Conservative Movements would not accept, would be for the government to physically upgrade the current pluralist prayer section at the Robinson’s Arch area of the Western Wall, without implementing the central clauses of the plan.
The clauses requiring the pluralist prayer area to be accessible from the main Western Wall complex and the establishment of a governing committee for the site that includes representatives from the progressive movements are the most important demands for the non-Orthodox groups and face the fiercest opposition from the haredi parties.
“Even if they upgrade the pluralist prayer section, something which will take years to do and require addressing the objections of the Israel Antiquities Authority, we will not accept this situation,” he said.
Kariv argued that such a solution exiling the progressive Jewish movements to an area which is not part of a recognized holy site would not be commensurate with the government agreement or with the principle of equality.
He said that the relevant parties are currently drawing up a petition to the High Court of Justice on this basis and would be ready and willing to submit it in approximately two to three months if no further progress is made by then.
A source in the Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu’s new chief of staff, Yoav Horowitz, would now handle the issue. But other sources said it was possible the issue would be given to the next cabinet secretary when he is appointed. Netanyahu’s office said Ness Ziona official Tzachi Braverman would be given the post, but the appointment has not yet been approved.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.