Imams and Rabbis Form Summit on Issues Surrounding Temple Mount

SEVILLE, Spain - The first attempt of its kind to prevent crises over the Temple Mount took center stage yesterday at the Second World Congress of Imams and Rabbis for Peace, which ends today. A panel discussion on holy sites discussed a proposal to establish a permanent committee comprising an equal number of Jewish and Muslim clerics to discuss issues affecting the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

The initiative, which is aimed at calming Muslim fear about Israel's plans for the site, was framed by Rabbi Ratzon Aroussi, the rabbi of Kiryat Ono and a member of the Chief Rabbinate's Council. Together with Rabbi Naftali Rothenberg of Jerusalem's Van Leer Institute, Aroussi presented his proposal to the Muslim members of the panel, which was headed by the imam Imad Faluji, an influential figure among Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Aroussi, a jurist with an academic degree, explained that many Muslims suspect Israel of planning to take control of the Temple Mount. He stressed that their fear is baseless because Jewish law forbids Jews from entering the site. Rothenberg, who has published research on the issue, said the halakhic prohibition could prevent a religious war between Jews and Muslims.

Aroussi urged the Muslim representative to take action against anti-Jewish incitement regarding the Temple Mount, which he said "feeds extremist elements within Israel."

Faluji did not reject the initiative but greeted it with reservation. The imam called on rabbis to ask the Israeli government to permit free access to Muslim holy places to all Muslims.

Another conference session took up the initiative to establish a permanent channel of communication between rabbis in southern Israel and imams in Gaza, in an effort to prevent Qassam rocket attacks from Gaza on Sderot.

Despite efforts to demonstrate an atmosphere of conciliation and understanding, there was a significant amount of tension behind the scenes at the conference, particularly on the Muslim side. A few of the conference organizers claimed yesterday that young imams from Gaza and the West Bank who were first-time participants tried to place political issues on the agenda. In one expression of the tension, organizers yesterday retreated from plans to release a serious of resolutions at the end of the conference today. Instead, they decided that the event will end with a joint declaration by the participating rabbis and imams.