Arabs Aren't Thrilled by the Idea of Controlling the Temple Mount

Islamic or Arab League sovereignty over East Jerusalem would serve to thwart Palestinian claims.

The announcement by Nabil Abu Rudeina, spokesman of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), to the effect that the PA is willing to transfer the holy places in Jerusalem to Islamic sovereignty in exchange for genuine Israeli compromises, was ostensibly supposed to constitute a breakthrough.

But that same Islamic sovereignty does not particularly thrill the foreign ministers of the 57 countries that met at the end of the week in Damascus for the Islamic Conference Organization. The proposal did not even come up for discussion. Instead, the participants mainly discussed the wording of the decisions condemning the construction and excavation activities being conducted by Israel in the Temple Mount area, whose purpose is the "Judaization of Jerusalem."

Not only can the proposal to transfer the Temple Mount to Islamic sovereignty not be defined legally - since what legal significance is there to the term "religious sovereignty" - it also angers some Fatah members, who say that "if the proposal really is valid, it overturns the vision of Yasser Arafat, who always adhered to the viewpoint that a Palestinian state without Jerusalem as its capital and the Palestinian flag on Haram al Sharif [the Temple Mount], is not a state."

Although Arafat had a relatively flexible viewpoint when it came to the religious status of Jerusalem, and always made a point of mentioning that it is holy to Christians and Muslims, in order to check any attempt to internationalize the city, when it came to control and sovereignty he was sharp as a razor.

East Jerusalem is a part of the territories occupied in 1967, and therefore sovereignty over them is Palestinian, not Islamic and not Arab.

This viewpoint was accepted years earlier by the Arab League, which granted the Palestine Liberation Organization headed by Arafat its status as the sole representative of the Palestinian people and as the sovereign in any territory released by Israel. In that way Arafat succeeded in pulling Jerusalem out of the hands of the Arab countries, and later out of Jordanian hands as well.

Technically, if the PA wants to surrender sovereignty over the Temple Mount in favor of Islamic representation, it will first have to go back to the Arab League in order for that body to make a decision.

One of the members of the Islamic Conference Organization is Iran, which in other times could have been considered an Arab ally and a country that could contribute to a diplomatic solution when it came to the places holy to Islam. However, when Egypt is conducting a fierce battle with Iran and its protege, Hezbollah, and when Islamic sovereignty is liable to grant Shi'ite Iran the status of a landlord in a place that is sacred to Sunni Islam, it is doubtful whether any of the leaders of the Sunni Arab countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Morocco, will agree to take a chance and to adopt Abu Rudeina's proposal, which is liable to bring Iran to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Hatem Abdel Kader, the new minister for Jerusalem affairs in Salam Fayyad's government, this week explained the Palestinian proposal in somewhat deeper detail, claiming that it does not refer to an international body that will assume responsibility for the Temple Mount, but rather an Islamic country.

But even this explanation is not sufficient. Which country will it be? Will it be an Islamic Arab country or a non-Arab country, like Iran, Turkey or perhaps Indonesia? For now it looks as though this proposal, which has already been denied by another adviser to Abbas, Nimer Hamad, will be dead upon arrival, and not only for fear of Iran or for legal reasons. When it comes to Islamic sovereignty over the Temple Mount, Hamas will also have something to say, because it combines all the basic requirements: an Islamic, Arab and Palestinian organization.

What do they really think?

Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Aboul Gheit does not make much effort to use diplomatic language when referring to Israel. He made his attitude toward Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman very clear, and he does not mince words when he attacks Israeli policy in the territories.

Judging by the interview given by his predecessor, Ahmed Maher, to the Egyptian newspaper Egypt Today, though, it looks as though we will have to wait until his resignation, when he is released from the restrictions imposed by his position, to hear how he really feels.

This is what Maher said to interviewer Dina Basiony: "Look, there is no normalization between Egypt and Israel. Egyptian people don't trust the Israelis, don't like the Israelis, they feel that Israel is not honest in trying to solve the problem. So there is no love lost. I personally never attended the national day of Israel, because we still believe that dislodging people from their land and bringing people from abroad on the basis of a 2,000 -year-old claim is something that is not moral."

"When they say, 'You have to recognize the right of Israel to exist,' the existence of Israel is a fact," he continued. "But, the creation of Israel has always been looked at by every Egyptian as something wrong. Even when the Europeans went to the Native Americans and took their land, they did not pretend that it was theirs, but that they came to conquer it."

Maher is not opposed to peace agreements between Israel and Egypt, but does not think highly of the Camp David accords: "In the end, the agreement reached was based on what I shall call a misunderstanding. Mr. [prime minister Menachem] Begin thought that he was giving [Egyptian president Anwar] Sadat Sinai in return for the disengagement of Egypt from the problems of the rest of the Arab world. President Sadat thought that the solution between Egypt and Israel would be the first step toward a comprehensive solution that restores the rights to all the Arabs."

Apparently this misunderstanding still exists between the two countries.