The Temple Mount is not a trading chip for peace

Leaving the status quo in place is not an option.

Muslims pray in front of the Dome of the Rock. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Muslims pray in front of the Dome of the Rock.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
The yet-to-be-finalized peace treaty with the United Arab Emirates has been viewed with some concern among the right-of-center, but not solely.
Foremost among worrisome issues is the matter of the suspended sovereignty implementation, that is, the applying of Israel’s laws to portions of the areas not under Palestinian Authority control would be, to borrow a term from the League of Nations 1922 Mandate decision regarding Transjordan’s separation from the Jewish national home, “postponed.”
A second belated interest is the selling of US F35s to the UAE and potential security danger. A third item is that yet once again the Arabs of Palestine are, for all intents and purposes, not included in the equation, the seemingly always left-out member of the group. This aspect is especially irksome among the pro-Palestine multitude.
Criticism from nationalist quarters is that in accepting the above sacrifices, Israel would be accepting, as a matter of course, an insult to the country’s honor, its independence, as well to its best interests. Money would be the hyped come-on; venality becomes the replacement value. Tourism, investment and commerce are the basics of peace, an approach Shimon Peres highlighted decades ago with his New Middle East vision.
Yet there is another element: the placating of Muslim theocratic sensitivity that not only denigrates Jewish religious sentiment but also contributes to an ongoing imbalance of Jewish national essence.
Jared Kushner, the president’s senior adviser, explained at a news conference on August 13 that in regard to the Temple Mount, the upcoming accord will counter “radical extremism” among Muslims who “say that [al-Aqsa] mosque is under attack and that Muslims don’t have access” to it. At that event, President Donald Trump noted that the “deal will allow much greater access to Muslims from throughout the world… to peacefully pray at al-Aqsa Mosque, which is a very special place for them.”
Speaking in a telephone briefing to the press a week later, Kushner said visiting Muslims could “see that al-Aqsa is not in danger, as antisemitic propaganda claims.”
Of course, there has never been any restrictions on Muslim tourist access the site and to worship there. Turkish visitors and even one Saudi Arabian blogger entered the compound, although the latter was expelled by the Jerusalem Wakf Islamic religious trust officials. And unless there has been violence initiated by Muslims at the compound, very rarely have any of the local Muslim population been stopped from entering.
But even without violence, Jews and Judaism are under attack there. Religious Jews are regularly described as either “storming” the site or “breaking in” to it. Official Palestinian Authority propaganda denies any historic Jewish connection to the Temple Mount. Thus, the new deal becomes a reinforcing agent, contributing to this negative viewing of Jewish rights at the Temple Mount.
Already at the end of January, the “Deal of the Century” assured that “all Muslims who come in peace may visit and pray at al-Aqsa Mosque” and added that “Jerusalem’s other holy sites should remain open for peaceful worshipers of all faiths.” Despite the imprecise language, the intention was clear: Only Muslims possess the right of free worship at the Temple Mount.
True, if one bothers to read the small print of Trump’s “Peace through Prosperity” plan, one can discover that “for Judaism, Jerusalem is where Mount Moriah is located... the Temple Mount itself is the holiest site in Judaism.
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.” But it appears those were just words.
Indeed, taking a cue from The Jerusalem Post’s Tovah Lazaroff, who asked in these pages on Friday, “Can the Temple Mount be a trading card to entice the Saudis?” could we imagine a future peace treaty with that kingdom in which Mecca would be open for Jews? Not at all.
As travel guides inform us, the authorities strongly enforce the strict prohibition against non-Muslims even entering the city. Could we see limited archaeological excavations be undertaken at the Temple Mount, if not Jewish prayer?
No, we could not. There is a secular holy and sanctified status quo in place whereby, in the words of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on October 24, 2015: “Israel will continue to enforce its longstanding policy: Muslims pray on the Temple Mount; non-Muslims visit the Temple Mount.”
In other parts of the world, policies of status quo have been altered. In Turkey, the Hagia Sophia Church has reverted to a mosque. Calls by the Greek government advocating for the preservation of the status quo has received no backing from other countries. All that US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said on July 1 was that America “views a change in the status of the Hagia Sophia as diminishing the legacy of this remarkable building.”
In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid a foundation stone for a Hindu temple in Ayodhya to replace a mosque that had been built there in the 17th century with no foreign outcry.
It is not true that in Jerusalem the status quo has remained unchanged since 1967. Not only has Israel chosen not to correct the situation and create a new status quo, but it permitted the Muslim side to “improve” its version of that status quo. In 1994, Israel’s peace treaty with Jordan provided for freedom of access to places of religious and historical significance and validating interfaith relations, religious understanding, freedom of religious worship, and tolerance. Yet, at the same time, “high priority” was granted to Jordan’s “historic role” in Muslim shrines in Jerusalem.
Israel was silent when the 2013 agreement signed between Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority actually enlarged the 1967 status quo in that it sacralizes concepts such as “environs” and “Wakf properties” which, strictly speaking, are outside the compound.
On August 17, Kushner declared that Israel’s deal with the UAE had “largely solved” the volatile issue of the status of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Leaving the status quo in place is not a solution.
One alternative is to assign a closed-in space within the site that is sufficiently distant and even “invisible” as a Jewish prayer location. That could be the Golden Gate, a small storeroom just to the north of it or to enclose an area just to the north of the main entry gate near the Western Wall within the colonnaded walkway. A second alternative would be to provide two separate time slots for prayer, as at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.
Muslims should not be allowed to make an unequal and discriminatory claim in Jerusalem that says Jews have no rights at their foremost religious site: the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a claim they demand and assert for themselves.
The writer is a political commentator and analyst.