Kushner should know that Muslims already pray freely on Temple Mount

Analysis: In an Egyptian media interview, Kushner takes credit for getting Israel to allow Muslims to pray in Jerusalem, even though that's been the case for decades.

Palestinian men prays near the Dome of the Rock on the compound known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City January 31, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)
Palestinian men prays near the Dome of the Rock on the compound known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City January 31, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)
Israel has done a good job preserving freedom of religion in Jerusalem, and the Trump administration knows it.
Or at least their “Peace to Prosperity” plan released last week gives that impression. But US President Donald Trump’s special adviser Jared Kushner gave the opposite impression in an interview with Egyptian channel MBC on Saturday, and doing so could have dangerous implications.
“Israel will work closely with a wonderful person, a wonderful man – the king of Jordan – to ensure that the status quo of the Temple Mount is preserved,” Trump said when presenting the plan last week.
“The State of Israel has been a good custodian of Jerusalem,” the plan reads at one point. “During Israel’s stewardship, it has kept Jerusalem open and secure.”
Several pages later, the text states: “Unlike many previous powers that had ruled Jerusalem, and had destroyed the holy sites of other faiths, the State of Israel is to be commended for safeguarding the religious sites of all… Given this commendable record for more than half a century, as well as the extreme sensitivity regarding some of Jerusalem’s holy sites, we believe that this practice should remain, and that all of Jerusalem’s holy sites should be subject to the same governance regimes that exist today. In particular the status quo at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif should continue uninterrupted.”
In that vein, the plan calls for the holy sites in Jerusalem to “remain open and available for peaceful worshipers and tourists of all faiths.”
Then, somewhat contradicting the call to maintain the current status quo, it says: “People of every faith should be permitted to pray on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, in a manner that is fully respectful to their religion, taking into account the times of each religion’s prayers and holidays, as well as other religious factors.”
It seems very clear that whoever wrote this plan knows that Israel has done a good job of allowing peaceful people access to the Temple Mount and other holy sites in Jerusalem, though he may be less familiar with the extreme limitations on Jewish visitors who are generally prohibited from praying on the Temple Mount.
Yet Kushner, who holds the Middle East peace portfolio in the Trump administration, told a different story.
“The most important part of this whole plan,” Kushner told MBC, “is that Israel is agreeing to recognize the special role of King Abdullah of Jordan regarding the holy sites and Muslim holy shrines and make sure that any Muslim who wishes to pray there is welcome to do that.”
That’s “agreeing,” in present tense. As in, Israel just agreed to do so under this plan. Not that Israel has been doing this for decades.
In case one may think that is a slip, Kushner makes it clear it is the narrative he is pushing to convince the Arab world of his plan.
Kushner says in the interview that “the single biggest thing that people around the Muslim world thought about this conflict is the mosque is under threat, and they don’t have the ability to pray in the mosque.”
He does not correct that view. Instead, Kushner proceeds to say: “And the reality is now, based on what we’ve accomplished here, there is no ambiguity about it. Israel has agreed to respect King Abdullah and his special role, and they’ve also agreed that any Muslim can pray, can go and can visit the mosque.”
Once again, he’s talking about “now,” about the Trump administration’s supposed accomplishment here and a supposedly new Israeli agreement.
“That’s a major thing that will hopefully bring Israel and the Islamic world closer together and lead to less radicalization,” he added, pointing out that the top Iranian terrorist the US killed, Qasem Soleimani, was the head of the “Jerusalem Liberation Force.”
“Now you have a situation where Jerusalem is liberated, Jerusalem is open,” he said.
Jared Kushner is not the liberator of Jerusalem, nor is Donald Trump.
One can choose to ignore these exaggerations as figures of speech.
But these comments are being made in a context where the idea of Israel being a poor custodian of Jerusalem has led to violence repeatedly.
Haj Amin al-Husseini, who was the mufti of Jerusalem, is the father of the “al-Aqsa is in danger” libel, which sparked the 1929 Hebron massacre, in which Arabs murdered 69 Jews and maimed scores of others. The Second Intifada of 2000 was known as the Aqsa Intifada, because that was the site on which it began when the Wakf at the time called on Palestinians to “defend” the site. And the 2015-16 “stabbing intifada” occurred amid similar incitement and claims of Israeli threats.
One of the books Kushner read during the years he worked on the peace plan – The Fight for Jerusalem by Dore Gold – includes an entire chapter titled “Jerusalem as an apocalyptic trigger for radical Islam.” Kushner even mentioned radicalization in his interview with MBC.
Yet he repeatedly said Israel allowing Muslims to pray on the Temple Mount would be a major new development to take place if the Trump plan is adopted, implying that Israel has not been doing that all along.
Was he trying to pander to an Arab audience? Maybe.
Either way, he should be careful not to lend credence to the “al-Aqsa is in danger” fallacy. When it comes to the Temple Mount, caution is always the smart move.