On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his decision to let politicians resume visiting the Temple Mount by the end of June. The announcement came against the background of growing pressure from the right to lift the ban on cabinet ministers and Knesset members visiting the Mount, as well as MK Yehudah Glick’s threat to petition the High Court of Justice against the ban. Glick followed through with his threat, and submitted a petition on Tuesday.
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The ban on ministers and MKs visiting the Jerusalem site has been in place for around 18 months, part of the unwritten understanding between Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah II that then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry mediated in a bid to mitigate the wave of violence that began in fall 2015. In recent months, there has been growing pressure from right-wing MKs to cancel the ban, and the result is Netanyahu’s announcement.
To the prime minister’s credit, it must be said that he has learned to be careful about respecting the Mount and has repulsed this right-wing pressure for a long time. Even in his latest announcement, he left himself a wide opening through which to retreat, by saying the decision to allow politicians to visit the Mount may be reexamined in light of security considerations.
The three months until the ban’s cancellation contain the potential for danger. They include Passover, the official holiday of activists seeking to expand the Jewish presence on the Mount, as well as Ramadan and the celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification. So it’s quite reasonable to assume that the security considerations will in fact change and the ban will remain in place.
Nevertheless, the more important point is that just as the ban was imposed through diplomatic negotiations between Israel and Jordan, any future Israeli moves on the Temple Mount must also be made through discussion and negotiations with the Jordanians, the Palestinians and the international community. Despite the right’s pressure, even Netanyahu understands that even after 50 years full of empty slogans about the unity and eternity of Jerusalem, Israel can’t do as it pleases on the Temple Mount.
Every move at this explosive site affects Israel’s relations with Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, and therefore, it also affects Israel’s security situation. Twenty-one years have passed since the riots sparked by the opening of the Western Wall tunnel, a rash decision by the first Netanyahu government that exacted a terrible price in blood. Since then, it has been proved repeatedly — during the second intifada, the violence of 2014 and 2015 and countless other events — that any incautious decision on the Temple Mount is calamitous.
The High Court justices would be wise to take this into account when they address Glick’s petition. And Netanyahu would be wiser if, before making decisions about the Temple Mount, he were to consult not just the police and the Shin Bet security service, but also Amman and Ramallah.