As Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski ordered a review of construction work at the Mughrabi Gate, accusations flew at the Knesset that the mayor and Prime Minister's Office have not handled the situation properly. Israel's first Arab minister, Ghaleb Majadle, called for an investigation into Lupolianski's handling of the much-contested construction, saying he had approved the plan to build a new bridge to the Temple Mount even though he knew it was illegal.
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The bridge is meant to replace an earthen ramp that partially collapsed in a snowstorm three years ago.
However, Lupolianski's move - meant to prove Israel will not damage Muslim shrines - will not affect preparatory excavations, which began last week and have infuriated people across the Muslim world.
Majadle said that both Olmert and Lupolianski had avoided following the legal steps involved in altering a religious archeological site.
According to law professor Meir Ben-Dov, the current law states that in order to alter religious archeological sites, the Education, Religious Affairs and Science and Culture ministers must agree on the plans for alteration. There is no religious affairs minister in the current government, and Olmert approved the plans the day that he accepted the Science and Culture Ministry back from MK Ophir Paz-Pines.
On Monday, Education Minister Yuli Tamir told The Jerusalem Post that not only had she not approved the plans, they had never been officially presented to her.
"There is clear illegal activity hereâ€¦ knowing what a sensitive issue was at hand I tried to meet with Lupolianski and was denied several times," said Majadle.
While representatives from the Prime Minister's Office said they had planned the construction work with full transparency, members of legal advocacy groups said that in addition to not passing the plans through the three ministers, other steps, such as giving the public 90 days to petition against the plan, had not been taken.
The government has explained that since the bridge was merely replacing a structure that had been damaged, it did not have to go through the same approval process as a new structure.
United Arab List MK Taleb A-Sanaa declared at the meeting that "the greatest provocateur currently is the government, which knows what a sensitive issue this is, yet is acting without any consideration for the Arab sector."
Fellow Arab MK Wasal Taha (Balad) also criticized the government, saying, "East Jerusalem is occupied. Israel is once again asserting its authority to do whatever it wishes in the occupied territories. Mughrabi is the holiest part of the Temple Mount. If there was danger, let's look at what caused it - the insensitivity of the government."
Paz-Pines, meanwhile, as Knesset interior committee chairman, refused to hold a vote at the end of the meeting because he was waiting for the government and Lupolianski to come to a decision about the excavation. He welcomed Lupolianski's decision to review the construction - a move that came only several hours after the committee meeting.
Lupolianski said he hoped to "ease tensions in Jerusalem. I believe that cooperation in Jerusalem can bring about coexistence, without mutual disregard."
The plans for the new walkway up to the Temple Mount were already approved by City Hall, but Lupolianski will now demand a longer and more transparent planning process that will allow residents to see the plans and submit protests, spokesman Gidi Schmerling said.
Lupolianski made the decision after meeting with Muslim leaders, Schmerling said, "so that the process will be transparent, and so that it will be entirely clear that there is no attempt to harm any Muslim holy sites."
Shortly after Lupolianski announced the decision to order new plans for the Mughrabi walkway, the deputy head of the Islamic Movement, Kamal Hatib, said in response that this was not enough.
"We demand an order from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to halt the work entirely," he said.