Netanyahu Delays Demolition of Jerusalem Bridge Over Arab Spring Warnings

Decision to forestall teardown of Old City's Mugrabi Bridge comes following messages from Egypt, Jordan saying that the measure could inflame popular unrest.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Jerusalem municipality and the Public Security Ministry to delay the execution of a demolition order for the Mugrabi Bridge, which connects the Western Wall Plaza to the Temple Mount, a senior official told Haaretz on Sunday.

According to the official, Friday's decision to delay the demolition by one week, forestalled the destruction of the bridge that was scheduled to commence late Saturday night and last for 72 hours.

Mugrabi Bridge - Tomer Appelbaum - 7.2.2011
Tomer Appelbaum

However, the site's sensitivity, as well as, Egypt's warnings that the move could lead the Tahrir Square protestors to focus their anger on Israel, prompted Netanyahu to delay the demolition. The premier is expected to hold an extensive discussion on the matter in the next few days in an attempt to resolve the issue.

The wooden bridge has allowed tourists, security forces and Jewish visitors to enter the Temple Mount via the Mugrabi Gate, located next to the Western Wall.

Police demanded its construction after part of an unused ramp leading up to the Mugrabi Gate buckled on a snowy night in February 2004.

The unsound Mugrabi Bridge has turned into a hub of tension between Israel and both the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat ordered the demolition, since the bridge was deemed unsafe, with a temporary bridge to be built in its place, allowing safer passage to the Temple Mount.

In recent days, the Islamic Waqf – the religious authority which manages the Temple Mount – launched a public campaign against the demolition, arguing the demolition was part of an Israeli plot to damage the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

A similar campaign was started in Jordan, with the backing of the Ministry of Awqaf Islamic Affairs and Holy Places. Israel's peace treaty with Jordan formalized Jordan's status as overseer of Jerusalem holy sites, with an emphasis on the Temple Mount.

Sources have indicated that Netanyahu's decision to delay the demolition was also prompted by Jordanian warnings that the move could incite riots in the Hashemite Kingdom.

Earlier this year, Jordanian and Israeli officials reached a draft agreement that would regulate the replacement of the old bridge with a newer one, with Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser making a rushed trip to Amman in order to sign the deal.

However, Jordan backed away from the agreement at the last moment, and the two countries have been trying to resolve the issue ever since.