Palestinian Official: Western Wall Is Not Jewish

Palestinian information minister says his 5-page report citing Muslim links to the shrine represents the official position of the PA; Netanyahu spokesman: Report is incitement.

A senior Palestinian Authority official has issued a report saying the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem has no religious significance to Jews and is in fact, holy Muslim property.

The contention could further inflame tensions over the disputed city and draw heavy rebuke from Israeli and Jewish leaders.

Western Wall - Emil Salman - 2009
Emil Salman

Decades of archaeology have shown that the Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews can pray, was a retaining wall of the compound where the two biblical Jewish Temples stood 20 centuries ago. The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Islam's third-holiest site, is built atop the ruins.

The latest claim about the Temples, echoing positions taken in the past by Palestinian leaders including the late Yasser Arafat, underlined the deeply held, conflicting beliefs that must be untangled if a peace accord is to be reached between Israel and the Palestinians.

Al-Mutawakil Taha, deputy minister of information in the Western-backed Palestinian Authority that rules the West Bank, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that his five-page study published on a Palestinian government website reflected the official Palestinian position.

Part of the report disputes that the Western Wall was a retaining wall of the Temple compound, discarding centuries of documentation and archaeology.

"This wall has never been a part of what is called the Jewish Temple," the report claimed. "However, it was Islamic tolerance which allowed the Jews to stand before it and cry over its loss."

The report concludes that since Jews have no claim to the area, it is holy Muslim territory and must be part of Palestinian Jerusalem.

Both sides say the clashing narratives are political. Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed it. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem, including the Old City, as the capital of their future state.

"Of course it's a political position," Taha said.

Taha said he wrote the report after Israeli officials on Sunday approved a five-year renovation plan for the Western Wall area.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev described the report as incitement by denying the historic Jewish connection to Jerusalem.

Einat Wilf, a legislator from the moderate Israeli Labor Party, a part of the governing coalition, said Palestinians are stupidly trying again and again to somehow create an alternative reality in which the Jewish people are strangers in this land.

After Israel seized control of east Jerusalem, it cleared away shacks built next to the Western Wall and built a wide, open plaza there.

In contrast, Israel turned over administration of the hilltop itself, with the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock shrine, to the Muslim Supreme Council, or Waqf, while Israel maintained overall security control.

Plans that won preliminary approval in earlier, failed peace negotiations envisioned dividing Jerusalem along ethnic lines - leaving Israel in control of Jewish neighborhoods while Arab sections would be part of the Palestinian state - but no formula emerged for the disputed hilltop.

Israel approved Sunday a five-year plan to the tune of NIS 85 million ($23 million) to renovate near the Western Wall and the adjacent Jewish quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem.

In announcing the plan, Regev said the budget would be for maintenance work only and does not cover areas that house disputed shrines holy to both Jews and Muslims.

The move nevertheless drew condemnation from the Palestinian Authority, which said it was bad for the peace process.

"Any Israeli activities in the occupied part of Jerusalem are illegal," PA spokesman Ghassan Khatib said.

"It's not healthy as far as the peace process is concerned because peace would require the end of the occupation of East Jerusalem," he added.