Opinion |

A War Over the Temple Mount Is Just a Matter of Time

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Clashes near Al-Aqsa Mosque, Friday.
Clashes near Al-Aqsa Mosque, Friday.Credit: Mahmoud Illean/AP Photo
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

The messiahs of the right are correct when they attempt time after time to burst into Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount to establish Israeli sovereignty there. In their eyes, the main thing is not prayers but sovereignty. Control, ownership, authority.

They’re right when they claim that Israel does not rule the holy compound, since as long as Jews cannot pray there as they wish, the Temple Mount is not in the hands of the state. Because what is the point of defining the state as Jewish if it has agreed to share the place most sacred to its believers with the Muslims? And not only to share, but actually to give up and withdraw from something that belongs to it by right since ancient times and is registered in its name in the Book of Books.

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And that is not the only contradiction caused by the religious state. The Temple Mount is located in an area that Israel has annexed, and to date only the Trump administration has acknowledged this sovereignty. But even had this annexation been acknowledged everywhere in the world, arrangements on the Temple Mount are subject to Israel’s promises to Jordan, as written in their 1994 peace treaty, and to later agreements designed to cool down this burning-hot religious reactor, which explodes with the frequency of a wild geyser.

After the Six-Day War of 1967, then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan decided that the administration of the Temple Mount would remain in the hands of the Jordanian religious trust, the Waqf. In 2015, then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ratified the so-called Kerry Agreements, including Israel’s recognition of Jordan’s special role in safeguarding the holy sites at the compound, and promised to continue to implement the principle that Muslims can pray on the Mount, while non-Muslims can visit, but not pray.

Trump’s “deal of the century” plan presented another important contradiction: On the one hand it retained the arrangements that were valid until its publication, but immediately afterwards it went on to say that “people of every faith should be permitted to pray on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, in a manner that is fully respectful to their religion.” A yoga master could only dream of executing such amazing convolutions.

The attempts by the Temple Mount “faithful” to breach the Mount, and their dream of not only praying on the Mount but also rebuilding the Temple there – a project that of necessity would require the demolition of the Muslim mosques – present the sovereignty issue as the main pretext for the insanity. They see themselves as a spearhead that could force the government to take over control of the Mount, just as they succeeded in “annexing” the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and in establishing settlement satellites that have created the parallel state: the state of the settlers that has shaped the face of the original State of Israel.

For them, without the Temple Mount, Israel cannot be a Jewish state, the reason for its survival will evaporate. For them, even if a religious war erupts, and even if Israel’s relations with its old and new Arab friends are severed, and certainly if sanctions are imposed on Israel – absolute control of the Temple Mount is worth the price.

Israeli governments have always made a point of denying the Muslims’ claim that Israel is aiming to turn the Temple Mount into a place of worship sacred to Jews only, to remove the Muslims from it or even only to divide the site.

It’s no wonder that the Muslims don’t find these denials particularly convincing. The construction around the Temple Mount, the takeover of Arab homes, and mainly the understanding that Israeli governments are not the actual sovereign in the occupied territories, but that it is the messianic forces (who even planned to blow up the mosques) who determine the agenda – all these things have given rise to what Israelis call Islamic paranoia but for the Muslims is a realistic diagnosis. Because when “leaders” like Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich can be Knesset members and perhaps even ministers, a war over the Mount is only a question of time.

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