Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made considerable efforts in the last two weeks to prove that Israel is meticulously maintaining the status quo on the Temple Mount.
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After negotiating with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and indirectly with Jordans King Abdulllah, Netanyahu agreed to have cameras installed on the Mount. He also admitted, by implication, that Jews have no right to pray at the site. Netanyahu also rebuked Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, who spoke about the issue, and MK Basel Ghattas, who visited the site.
But a careful examination of the government policys toward the Temple Mount turns up a contradiction. While officially declaring its commitment to the status quo, the state is aiding and supporting several organizations whose activity is entirely devoted to undermining it.
A report published two years ago by the Ir Amim and Keshev organizations finds that 19 NGOs in Israel deal with the Temple Mount. Some receive financial support from the government. The Mikdash Educational Center, for example, gets hundreds of thousands of shekels a year from the Education Ministry. The centers activity consists of preparing the temple utensils and priests for the fateful day. But the most important government support is in encouraging students – tens of thousands a year – to visit the Mikdash (Temple) center and in using its study program in the state-religious schools curriculum (Or Kashti, Haaretz, October 23).
The program places the reconstruction of the Temple as a goal to strive toward and defines it as the pinnacle of all humanitys aspirations. The meaning of this, in practice, is changing the status quo.
The public movement for changing the status quo on the Temple Mount is not big. It includes a few dozen activists and a wider circle of a few thousand supporters. Last year some 10,000 visits by Jews were registered at the Temple Mount, with most of these visitors coming more than once. But the movement has two power hubs – the disproportionate hold it has on the Likud and Habayit Hayehudi parties, and its penetration into the education system.
The governments assistance to these movements undermines the prime ministers diplomatic commitment to preserve the status quo on the Temple Mount. As long as Israels government cannot jumpstart a real peace process, the status quo is critical to preserve calm and prevent violence. Netanyahu has understood this. Now the government must reexamine its relationship with those who act against this policy.