A Muslim-Arab MK in Ehud's Court

When Ghaleb Majadele took up the cabinet post previously held by Ophir Pines-Paz, who had resigned over the entry into the government of a man who wants to transfer Baka al-Garbiyeh to Palestine, he did not imagine what a mess he was getting himself into. Israel's first Muslim-Arab minister (and apparently, the same goes for the person who appointed him) did not, for instance, consider that the science, culture and sport portfolio includes responsibility for the Antiquities Law. The uproar over the archaeological dig at the Temple Mount's Mughrabi Gate, which broke out on the very eve of his historic inauguration, did not set off even the faintest of warning bells.

His job mandated Majadele's inclusion on the ministerial committee on the Mughrabi Gate. This committee is supposed to approve the plan for a new bridge leading to the Temple Mount's western entrance. The interest that Labor Party ministers are taking in this explosive issue can be measured by the fact that Majadele is their only representative on the committee. That is the same representation that Shas and the Pensioners have. In contrast, the committee includes no fewer than five Kadima Party ministers, headed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert - who, as we know (see the affair of the Western Wall tunnel in September 1996), attaches special importance to holy sites that are potential flashpoints.

The committee's composition attests to the intention of showing the world who owns the Temple Mount. The dispute with the Waqf (Muslim religious trust) is not over whether it is necessary to repair the shaky bridge (Majadele claims that the Waqf is even willing to do the work itself), and the rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, says there is no religious issue at stake; the issue is merely the safety of those visiting the Temple Mount. Were it up to the rabbi, who opposes Jewish visitors to the mount, he would close all the gates. That would enable him to expand the crowded women's section of the Western Wall plaza.

But in Jerusalem, every stone is a matter of "national honor," and every safety railing touches on "the principle of sovereignty." Nor is the matter much different among Muslim politicians. Hadash Chairman MK Mohammed Barakeh hastened to declare that the repairs to the bridge were "a provocation" whose goal is to torpedo the peace process and set the region on fire. Barakeh grabbed the opportunity to "expose the true face of the Olmert-Barak-Lieberman government." He did not need to add Majadele to the troika; Arab voters understand that without any help. When the bulldozers ascend the mount, everyone will know who the minister in charge of the excavations is.

Majadele, who missed the ministerial committee's last meeting ("for personal reasons"), appealed to the cabinet its decision to restart the work. Noting that the prime minister frequently declares that there is no substitute for dialogue with our neighbors, he demanded: "Doesn't resuming the excavations unilaterally contradict this [principle]?" He then added: "Does the state of Israel, which behaves like a power and boasts of freedom of worship, need legitimization for our sovereignty?" But there is no sign that Olmert (or Ehud Barak) intends to rescue Majadele from the bitter honey trap of being an Arab minister in the Jewish state.