JERUSALEM'S TEMPLE MOUNT REMAINS OBSTACLE IN PEACE TALKS
According to Newsroom: 1,2
As Israeli and Palestinian leaders continue their pursuit of an
illusive peace agreement, the question of who will control Temple Mount --
sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims -- looms as the biggest obstacle to
Discussion about the status of Temple Mount was taboo in Israel until
recently. Opening the subject for debate has provoked powerful opposition
from the Israeli nationalist-religious camp, which claims broad support
from Jews around the world and has threatened violence if the sacred site
comes under Palestinian sovereignty.
Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Conference of Islamic countries, meeting in
Morocco, on Tuesday [2000-AUG-29] adopted a resolution calling for the
creation of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and
Palestinian sovereignty over Muslim and Christian holy places. The
conference also called on the United States not to move its embassy to
Temple Mount is sacred to Jews as the site of the First and Second
Temples (the temples of Solomon and Herod the Great) and to Christians as
the mountain where Jesus of Nazareth preached. Judaism maintains that the
Temple Mount will be the place where the Messiah will come. Many
Christians share that belief with respect to Jesus. Today the compound
contains the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third-holiest
site after Mecca and Medina, because it is believed to be the place where
Muhammad ascended into heaven.
Known in the Arab world as Al-Haram al-Sharif, the Temple Mount was
annexed by Israel in 1967. The Israelis declared that the Mount would
remain a Muslim site, but Jews could visit. The de-facto policy, however,
was that Jews would not turn it into a place of worship. That policy has
held because the chief Israeli rabbis ruled that Jews should not set foot
on the Mount due to its sanctity.
Although Israel retains formal sovereignty over the Temple Mount, the
site is governed by an Islamic trust that allows non-Muslims to visit the
compound during limited hours and prohibits Jewish or Christian worshipers
from reading prayers aloud. The Chief Rabbinate, which was to make a
decision on the establishment of a synagogue on the Temple Mount last
week, delayed its verdict under pressure from the Israeli government.
Peace negotiators are focusing on a proposal where no one would have
sovereignty over the Temple Mount, but Palestinians would have authority
over the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and there would be a place on the site where Jews
Egypt, under pressure from the U.S. to soften the position of
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, has suggested a compromise by which the
Palestinians would have sovereignty over Al-Aqsa, but not the Temple
Mount, and Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem. Ultimate responsibility
for security within the city would remain with Israel.
Arafat, meanwhile, is seeking international Christian support for Arab
sovereignty over the entire site. The Palestinian leader frequently
declares himself to be not only the guardian of Islamic sacred sites, but
of Christian holy places as well. Palestinians are continuing construction
work on the Mount, however, turning the underground vaults (Solomon's
Stables) into a mosque and damaging archaeological layers that contain
remnants of Jewish temples.
"(Prime Minister Ehud) Barak and Clinton were naive to think
that Arafat could sign an agreement recognizing Israeli sovereignty over
the Haram," asserted Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian
Center for Policy Research. "Never has a Muslim leader, in the
history of Islam, willingly abandoned sovereignty over holy places. Ö
That would make Arafat a pariah in all the Arab and Muslim world."
During the Camp David talks in July, three Jerusalem Patriarchs --
Latin, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox -- and the Vatican-appointed
Custos of the Holy Land sent a letter to U.S., Israeli, and Palestinian
leaders asking to keep the Old City of Jerusalem undivided, to preserve
the status-quo of churches, and to allow their representatives to
participate at that summit and at all future talks to guarantee
Christians' rights in the Holy City.
In Morocco this week, a delegation of six envoys from Christian
churches in Jerusalem took part in the conference for the first time. The
head of the delegation argued for the return of Jerusalem to Arab control.
"Al-Quds (the Arab name for Jerusalem) is an Arab and
Palestinian city with its holy shrines, holy Islamic and Christian
shrines," maintained Atallah Hannah, the Greek Orthodox head of
the delegation and an ethnic Arab. "There will be no peace in the
region unless the city is returned to its legitimate owners and becomes
the capital of the Palestinian independent state."
However, Shmuel Avitar, the Jerusalem mayor's adviser on Christian
affairs, told Newsroom that Jerusalemís historic Christian communities,
the majority of whom are ethnic Arabs, fear the Palestinian Authority
because of its record of corruption and discrimination against Christians.
They reject any division of the Old City. Since it is Israel which now
rules there, such a stand implies the continuation of Israeli control.
At the same time, the churches have renewed their call for
international guarantees for the holy places. "In the past such
calls were seen as directed against Israel, but there has been almost
universal praise for Israel's administration of the holy sites,"
Avitar said. "With the perspective of Palestinian control, the
guarantees might well be something the churches now sincerely want."
Approximately 5,000 Christian Arabs, 2,300 Armenian Orthodox, and
23,000 Muslims live in the Old City. The Christians are mainly
middle-class shopkeepers, while Muslims typically are laborers or depend
on Israeli unemployment benefits. The Christian and Armenian populations
are dwindling rapidly, however.
"The Christians have left because of Muslim social and
political pressure and the rise of Islamic nationalism,"
explained Amir Cheshin, an adviser on East Jerusalem to the previous mayor
Most of the Christian Arabs, according to the polls, favor Jerusalem
becoming an international city, run by the UN. Israeli and Palestinian
leaders reject that idea.
Because of the emotional and symbolic significance of the Temple Mount,
neither side is prepared to cede complete sovereignty to the other. Both
Barak and Arafat argue that their people would never accept such an
In recent weeks, Jewish radical groups have staged protests near the
Temple Mount, threatening violence if Israel gives up the site. The group
"Temple Mount Faithful" was prevented by Israeli police
from entering the site for prayer and filed a new High Court petition. Jan
van der Hoeven of the International Christian Zionist Center told Newsroom
that the center is trying to "rally international Christian
support" for Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert and former Prime
Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, who strongly oppose negotiating the Mount's
Gershon Baskin, director of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research
and Information, contends that the only possibility for resolution "is
that the Palestinians may give on some kind of Ďdivine sovereigntyí
over the Temple Mount. There would be deniability of the other side's
Shikaki proposes a purposefully vague formula whereby both sides could
claim sovereignty over the holy sites. "The Palestinians could
have Ďeffective sovereigntyí and Israel could retain formal
sovereignty, though the part about Israel won't appear at all in the
agreement," he suggested. "Arafat would just not mention
it, but Barak could tell his people the day after the signing that Israel
never renounced its own sovereignty."
- "Jerusalem's Temple Mount remains obstacle in peace talks,"
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- "The Temple Mount (Al-Harem Al-Sharif)," at:
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Latest update: 2000-SEP-5