Jerusalem Halts Temple Mount Construction Work, Denies East Jerusalem Building Permits

Sources say Netanyahu put pressure on Jerusalem mayor to block a proposed building for Jews in Silwan in exchange for halting the work on the Temple Mount.

A man is seen from a window as Israeli flags fly on top of a house in Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem, Aug. 27, 2015.
AP

The Jerusalem municipality on Tuesday issued a halt-work order on construction being carried out by the Waqf Muslim administrative body on the Temple Mount, and also decided not to grant a building permit to the right-wing Ateret Cohanim organization in Silwan, in the southern part of East Jerusalem.

In anticipation of the Ramadan holy month, which begins next week, the Waqf began construction work in recent months to install restrooms close to the Temple Mount, in the northern section. The work also included creating a new opening in the Temple Mount wall.

But at a hearing on Tuesday attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, the municipality decided to order that the work be stopped.

Right-wing sources say the prime minister put pressure on Barkat to block a proposed building for Jews in Silwan in exchange for halting the work on the Temple Mount. But a Jerusalem municipality spokesperson vehemently denied that there is any connection between the two. “Absolutely not true. That is totally false. There is no connection between these things,” he said.

The Prime Minister’s Office has not commented.

Two and a half months ago, the Israel Antiquities Authority issued an order to halt the work by the Waqf on the Temple Mount, but it later withdrew its opposition in wake of political pressure, and the work continued. Lately, right-wing parties, led by the Regavim organization and Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Uri Ariel, had upped the pressure to have the work halted.

One highly placed source says that Jordan is exerting pressure on Israel to approve the continuation of the construction work, even without a work permit from the Jerusalem municipality.

At Tuesday’s meeting the prime minister said that there is “diplomatic sensitivity” involved. But at the end of the session, the municipality issued a statement about a new order halting the work, saying that the order was issued after “the relevant parties were informed.”

On Tuesday morning, Army Radio reported that approval was expected Wednesday for a building plan for a three-story residential building in Silwan, not far from Beit Yonatan, being promoted by Ateret Cohanim as part of its efforts to increase Jewish settlement in Silwan. The site for the building was sold to the organization by the custodian general.

People familiar with the issue say that as soon as the plan became known, the Prime Minister’s Office began pressuring the Jerusalem municipality not to approve the plan, for fear it would cause diplomatic damage.

Ariel welcomed the municipality’s decision to issue an order to halt work on the Temple Mount structure, but added that issuing orders is not enough, they must be enforced. “As Jerusalem Day nears, we are witness to the Muslim Waqf’s serious violation of Israeli sovereignty on this holiest site to the Jewish people. Illegal construction by the Muslim Waqf in an antiquities site next to the Temple Mount is a very grave matter. It is not enough to issue injunctions. The injunctions must be enforced. The delay in addressing the violation of the status quo is a major failure and I expect the prime minister, who has responsibility for the Temple Mount issue, to put an end to it.”

Meanwhile, on Tuesday night the police carried out a wave of arrests in the A-Tur and Al-Suwaneh neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Thirty-three people were arrested for disturbing the peace and other offenses.