'One Kotel for One People'

Sharansky: My Plan for Western Wall Is Based on Access, Equality and Unity

Jewish Agency chair's position, outlined in a letter acquired by Haaretz, is likely to agitate Muslim religious leaders in Jerusalem who challenge Jewish claims to the Western Wall and argue that it is part of the al-Aqsa compound.

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky's recommendations for a compromise agreement vis-a-vis the Western Wall are based on three guiding principles: access, equality and unity.

In a letter addressed to members of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency that Haaretz acquired on Thursday, Sharansky explains his compromise proposal. He emphasized that "we have an historic opportunity to make the Kotel a symbol of Jewish unity and diversity instead of a place of contention and strife."

His plan, he noted in the letter, is based on the notion of "One Kotel for One People" and three guiding principles: access, equality and unity.

The letter points out that the Western Wall was divided into two sections in 1968, not long after the Six Day War, and that the northern section was designated for prayer and the southern section, adjacent to the Mughrabi Bridge, was set aside for archeological exploration. "The excavations at the southern half of the Kotel have been completed," wrote Sharansky. "It is time that we transform the Kotel into a site dedicated to prayer as well as a meaningful cultural and national symbol."

Sharansky's statement is likely to agitate Muslim religious leaders in Jerusalem who challenge Jewish claims to the Western Wall and argue that it is part of the al-Aqsa compound. Some of these religious leaders have expressed concerns in recent months about initiatives that might draw more Jewish worshippers to the site. They have also recently lodged protests about Jewish archeological excavations in the area on the grounds that these jeopardize the foundations of their holy sites.

As part of his plan, Sharansky added, the southern end would remain open for prayer 24 hours a day, seven days a week. "A plaza would be constructed so it is equal in size and height as the northern prayer area," he wrote. "This will allow all people to touch the Kotel. Finally, there should be a single entrance to the entire Kotel plaza. All comers will then be able to choose the area where they will pray."

AP