Mutual recognition of ties to Jerusalem will strengthen peace

A mutual declaration on the issue of the Temple Mount may affect the motivation and incentives for all sides to find a solution to other core issues at the heart of the conflict.

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
The Temple Mount in Jerusalem
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
The agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates opens new opportunities for additional steps toward peace between Israel, the Palestinians and other Arab states. 
A feasible step and a significant one is promoting the informal relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and Israel and Morocco to formal political relationships. The main challenge the US, Israel, and those states are facing, is finding the right key that will allow them to conduct such a step. An analysis of Saudi Arabia and Morocco’s interests and their religious role in the Muslim world suggests that a mutual declaration, recognizing the religious and historical connections of all religions to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount/Al-Haram-Al-Sharif, can serve as the key to upgrade their ties with Israel. But not just that, a declaration of mutual recognition can facilitate a better ground for future negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, because it can reduce the religious dimension of the conflict and it can significantly influence future talks, regarding Jerusalem and other core issues.
The dispute, regarding the Temple Mount/Al-Haram-Al-Sharif status, creates incredible tension and tremendous sensitivity, projected throughout the region. In the conflict framework, the Palestinians and the Muslim world mostly deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount/Al-Haram-Al-Sharif. This denial of the Jewish religious and historical links to Jerusalem is perceived by the Israelis and Jews as a lack of willingness to accept Israel’s existence and presence in the region. This denial heavily influences Israelis’ belief that any solution is achievable.
Israel does not deny Muslim ties to Jerusalem. Yet, Israel is working intensively to enhance the Jewish landscape of the city and, at the same time, to weaken its Muslim historical and religious character. The Islamic world perceives this as Israel’s attempt to damage the Muslim connection to the Temple Mount/Al-Haram-Al-Sharif and that Israel is trying to change the status quo of the Temple Mount/Al-Haram-Al-Sharif. This Muslim perception also heavily influences their community of believers and leads some of them to consider themselves enlisted in the struggle to protect all that is holy to Islam in Jerusalem.
Israeli recognition of the Muslim connection to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount/Al-Haram-Al-Sharif, and a commitment to keep the right of worship of Muslims and their rituals conducted there, would significantly reduce religious tensions. This recognition would honor the faith and the religion of the Muslims.
Recognition of the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount/Al-Haram-Al-Sharif will contribute significantly to strengthening Israelis’ and Jews’ feelings that the Arab world does not just recognize their historical and religious ties to this area, but rather accepts their existence here.   
Due to Jerusalem’s religious status, the discussion about its future is not one that can be held only between Israelis and Palestinians, but instead one that has many partners throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Israel’s partner for negotiations about the future political status of Jerusalem is the Palestinians. Still, the partners for talks about Jerusalem’s religious aspects reside in the broader Muslim world, including the Palestinians.
The content of a declaration of mutual recognition should include: Respect and recognition of the religious and historical ties and links of both religions to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount/Al-Haram-Al-Sharif; commitment to maintaining the existing status quo on the holy site; allowing Muslims from countries who sign the recognition to ascend the Temple Mount/Al-Haram-Al-Sharif and a commitment that the final status of the Temple Mount/Al-Haram-Al-Sharif will be agreed between all the states which are partners to this mutual recognition declaration, including the Palestinians. The rights of access and worship for all religions will be considered in the parties’ final status talks.
The declaration should be acknowledged Jordan’s special role in the Temple Mount/Al-Haram-Al-Sharif, which Israel recognized already in the peace treaty signed between the two states in 1994.
The declaration should ensure that the Christians’ religious rights in Jerusalem will be preserved and that the status of their holy sites in the city will be kept.
A mutual declaration, which would be a breakthrough in the most complicated issue of the Temple Mount/Al-Haram-Al-Sharif, may affect the motivation and incentives for all sides to find a solution to other core issues at the heart of the conflict. In this regard, such a declaration can serve as an opening step for a regional dialogue aimed to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The initiative for this mutual recognition should be American. During President Trump’s visit to the region in 2017, the religious motif was highly prominent in his speeches in Riyadh, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem. In his remarks, Trump expressed hope the three religions would be able to make peace. This hope forms the basis of a declaration of mutual recognition, which is the key to the next steps toward peace between the Arab states, the Palestinians and Israel.
The writer was the head of the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research between 2009 and 2016, and is currently a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute’s research center.