According to this newspaper’s Palestinian affairs correspondent, Khaled Abu Toameh, the Kingdom of Jordan and the Palestinian Authority have begun taking measures “to stave off any attempt by the incoming right-wing government in Israel to change the status quo at al-Aqsa mosque compound.” (The “al-Aqsa mosque compound” is Islamic nationalist nomenclature for the Temple Mount compound.)
Jordan and the PA reportedly are stepping up their efforts in the international arena to warn of the dangers of any attempt to unilaterally alter the status quo at the holy site and to reaffirm Jordan’s role as custodian of the Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.
The initiative aims to send a message to the incoming Israeli government, which includes right-wing religious Zionist factions, that Jordan and the Palestinians are determined to thwart any attempt to divide the holy site in time and space between Muslims and Jews.
Jordan and the PA have, in recent years, attacked Israel for allowing Jews to tour the Temple Mount and even quietly and unofficially to pray there a bit, describing Jewish-Israeli visits as “stormings” and “violent incursions” into al-Aqsa mosque, and as the “Judaization” of Jerusalem and its Muslim holy sites.
The inversion of truth contained in the above presentation is utterly galling. If anybody has unilaterally, brazenly and violently changed the status quo on the Temple Mount over the past 25 years, it is radical Palestinian and Islamic actors who have turned the mount into a base of hostile operations against Israel, instead of protecting it as a zone of prayer and peace.
Israel, on the other hand, has acted with utmost restraint in the face of Arab assaults. (Too much restraint, in my opinion.)
The Wakf (Islamic Trust) and Islamic movement provocateurs have attacked Jewish visitors to the Mount, Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall below the Mount and Jewish worshippers on their way to the Western Wall. They have attacked Emiratis and Bahrainis praying in al-Aqsa mosque because these countries signed Abraham Accord peace treaties. They have greatly restricted visitation rights to the holy mount for all non-Muslims and hijacked the pulpits in the mosque on the mount to preach hatred and violence against Israel.
The former chief justice of the PA’s religious court, Sheikh Tayseer Al-Tamimi, has declared that the PA’s Islamic belief and political position is that Jews should not only be prohibited from praying on the Temple Mount but at the Western Wall of the Temple Mount too since the Wall is part of the “blessed al-Aqsa mosque” and not part of any “alleged” ancient Jewish temple. Such scurrilous, seditious talk fuels and legitimizes Arab violence.
The Wakf has also conducted vast, illegal construction projects on the mount and beneath it, willfully destroying centuries of Jewish archaeological treasures. This includes the unsupervised digging out of Solomon’s Stables underneath al-Aqsa and the eastern Hulda Gate passageway in the southeast precinct of the Temple Mount.
Four hundred trucks full of archaeologically rich rubble were unceremoniously dumped by the Wakf into the Kidron Valley. Thousands of artifacts from the temple periods have been since found in this rubble.
THE WAKF has also turned Byzantine structures on the Temple Mount, such as the Gates of Mercy building, into Muslim prayer halls, without coordination with Israel.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas continues to stoke a broad-scale campaign against the authenticity of Israel’s historic rights in Jerusalem. In September 2015, he screeched about filthy Jewish feet that were desecrating holy Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem. “Al-Aksa is ours and so is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher,” he bellowed. “They (the Jews) have no right to desecrate them with their filthy feet. We won’t allow them to do so and we will do whatever we can to defend Jerusalem.”
This inflamed and despicable discourse is now being picked-up by gullible and not-so-gullible Western progressives, who amplify this big lie by blabbering about Israel’s unprovoked and unacceptable actions on the Temple Mount, excessive force and violations of the status quo.
Even well-meaning Western spokespeople, like State Department spokespeople, have fallen victim to the big lie with mollycoddling mumbo-jumbo about the need for all sides to deescalate and respect the sanctity and status quo of holy sites in Jerusalem.
Should all sides deescalate? What is the status quo? What of the sanctity of holy sites? What the heck are they talking about? There is only one side, the Arab side, that purposefully has escalated the violence in Jerusalem and defiantly defiled the Temple Mount over the past 25 years. It is the Palestinians who have turned al-Aqsa and the entire mountain plaza into extra-territorial headquarters for the propagation of blood-curdling big lies about Israel.
In fact, Palestinian violence and Islamic exclusivism have become the new Temple Mount status quo. This is the status quo Western leaders demand that Israel preserve.
Just to give one example of the way in which the Wakf has seditiously monkeyed with the so-called status quo, consider visitation rights to the Temple Mount. Until the end of September 2000, any non-Muslim ascending the Temple Mount could pay NIS 36 NIS and enter the “shrines” (meaning the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa). This ended when Palestinians launched their Second Intifada assault on Israel. The Israel Police halted non-Muslim ascent, due to security concerns.
In 2003, the Wakf requested that non-Muslims be allowed to come up again but with the discriminatory caveat that Jews would not be allowed to enter the shrines at all. Israel responded that only a situation of status quo ante would be acceptable, meaning that all non-Muslims, including Jews, would be able to pay the visitation fee and get in. The Wakf refused and preferred to shut down the shrines to non-Muslims all-together. The only way to get in today is to bribe a senior Wakf official.
According to one estimate, the Wakf has lost over a billion shekels in potential revenues over the past 20 years – which apparently is fine from the Wakf’s perspective as long as Jews are locked out.
The Wakf has also unilaterally changed visitation rules for the Temple Mount plaza, barring most forms of conspicuous religious garb or nationalist educational aids. This means no kipas on Jews, no crosses on Christians (even jewelry), no reconstruction drawings of what the Temples looked like, Solomon’s or Herod’s, and of course, no Bibles – old or new testaments. Occasionally, Wakf guards will even assault guides and archaeologists that speak about the temples.
AT THE same time, the Wakf has allowed ISIS, Hamas, Islamic Movement and Turkish flags to fly on the Temple Mount in violation of all understandings, as well as blood-curdling banners with calls to annihilate Israel and the Jewish People.
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan under King Abdullah has also been engaged in “mission creep,” a campaign to falsely embellish its privileges at holy sites in Jerusalem. Amman now claims custodianship of all Moslem and Christian holy places in Jerusalem, a claim that it was invented out of thin air.
Israel has never recognized Jordanian custodianship over holy sites in Jerusalem. Article 9, Paragraph 2 of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty of 1994 says that Israel respects “the present special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in the Muslim holy shrines in Jerusalem.”
Jordan’s special role in the Muslim holy shrines in Jerusalem is a far cry from custodianship, which suggests semi-sovereignty over the Muslim holy shrines in Jerusalem. Nor has Israel recognized any Jordanian special role regarding Christian sites in Jerusalem.
Even Jordan’s purported special role in the Muslim holy shrines in Jerusalem was predicated on Article 9, Paragraph 3 of the peace treaty which states that, “The Parties will act together to promote interfaith relations among the three monotheistic religions, with the aim of working towards religious understanding, moral commitment, freedom of religious worship, and tolerance and peace.”
I daresay that given the way the Jordanian-controlled Wakf has behaved, Jordan is in deep default of this latter commitment.
Unfortunately, responsibility for the deteriorating situation in and around the Temple Mount must be laid on Israeli leadership. The governments of Israel seem to have gone mute in the face of the slanders at the heart of the Palestinian-Islamic narrative regarding the Temple Mount and the Jewish presence in Zion.
Israeli leaders continually prefer to keep things quiet and restore calm after every wave of Palestinian violence or Jordanian rhetorical assault, and to swear fealty to a status quo that is long dead.
Israel must parry Palestinian violence and Islamic incitement in Jerusalem by laying out a new diplomatic initiative to solidify Israel’s rights on the Temple Mount. Only a forward-looking and affirmative Israeli stance, if possible, in the context of renewed peace talks with the Palestinians can create a new and acceptable situation on the Temple Mount.
The writer is a senior fellow at the Kohelet Forum and at Israel’s Defense and Security Forum (Habithonistim). The views expressed here are his own. His diplomatic, defense, political and Jewish world columns over the past 26 years are archived at davidmweinberg.com.