Netanyahu Risks Muslim Wrath Over Jerusalem Holy Site

Restoration work near Al-Aqsa Mosque could destroy the remnants of Israel's relations with the Muslim world.

Will Netanyahu use a court decision to forgo a plan to alter the Mughrabi Gate? King Abdullah of Jordan is distancing himself from Israel's prime minister because of the violation of the status quo in East Jerusalem. The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is waiting in the corner for the slightest provocation against Islamic holy places by the Israeli government. The only trouble Benjamin Netanyahu is still missing is that of the Mughrabi Gate, at the entrance to the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary compound.

Whether he likes it or not, that problem is already nearing boiling point. But two weeks ago, the Jerusalem District Court supplied him with a ladder. Now, the prime minister must decide whether he wants to use it to climb down from the ramp, or whether he prefers to climb up, and gamble with what is left of Israel's relations with the Muslim world.

Next week will mark the third anniversary of the start of the salvage dig at this sensitive site, which leads to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and overlooks the Western Wall. Back then, close to 2,000 policemen accompanied archaeologists and workers to the compound. Their assignment was to prepare for restoration work at the site, after cracks were discovered in the ramp leading to the gate in 2004.

Rumors flew through the Arab world that the Jews were trying to undermine the foundations of the mosque and prepare the area for the construction of a third Temple. The Jordanian king warned that the work would undermine the stability of the Middle East. A Hamas spokesman warned that damage to the mosque would put an end to the temporary cease-fire. A few months later, a team of experts from Turkey examined the excavations and asserted that this was an attempt to destroy cultural assets from the Islamic period.

The Western Wall Rabbi, Shmuel Rabinowitz, is a man of action: He never for a moment hid his intention of exploiting the repair of the ramp to turn the unused space below it into an extension of the women's prayer section. He would joke that the Lord had answered his prayers by putting cracks in the ramp, which would make it possible to reduce the crowding at the Western Wall Plaza. The rabbi also used his connections in earthly Jerusalem - namely, in the office of then prime minister Ehud Olmert.

Together with the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter, Rabinowitz promoted a detailed plan for changing the face of the Mughrabi ramp. And Olmert even put himself at the head of a special ministerial committee for advancing the project. The plan went from one planning committee to another until it reached the National Planning and Building Committee.

But two weeks ago, something happened in Jerusalem that threatens to spoil the plan. The president of the Jerusalem District Court, Judge Moussia Arad, took a look at the pictures shown her by attorney Kais Nasser, who is representing Islamic historian Dr. Mahmoud Massalha in his petition against the plan. She looked, and it apparently had an effect.

According to the pictures, which were taken in 2004, the damage to the ramp is small and concentrated mainly in its northern section. An expert opinion accompanying the photographs stated that the cracks did not affect the other parts of the ramp at all, so it is possible to renovate it quickly, at a cost of no more than NIS 50,000.

Arad ordered representatives of the Prime Minister's Office to get back to her within a month about whether their boss would accept her proposal to shelve the project for expanding the women's prayer section. Meanwhile, Nasser will obtain UNESCO's opinion of the plan. The United Nations organization has been monitoring the project from its inception to ensure that the work does no harm to the site.

But Nasser's joy is mixed with skepticism. "We have proved that the fall of a few stones was exploited in order to change the appearance of a site of unparalleled sensitivity and explosiveness," the Jerusalem attorney said Monday. But he quickly added: "Unfortunately, in view of the opposition of the Western Wall lobby and its great influence, I find it difficult to believe the state will accept the court's proposal."

So what if the Turks are angry? Their ambassador has not sat on a sofa opposite Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon for a long time.

The shallow Left

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has nicknamed the Israeli Left the "Deep Left," turning this depleted camp into a strike force that threatens the peace initiative of his friend, Benjamin Netanyahu. In a new book published by Am Oved, "Malkodet Hakav Hayarok" ("The Green Line Trap"), Prof. Yehouda Shenhav joins in dancing on the grave of the Zionist Left that supports a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.

The Tel Aviv University sociologist, one of the leaders of the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow Coalition, puts the word "Left" in quotes and claims that it formulates its perception of the conflict out of a cultural, economic and political worldview that is essentially sectorial and conservative. In his eyes, the 1967 paradigm is the main consciousness barrier Israelis face in addressing the conflict, and he prophesies that it will collapse in favor of the 1948 paradigm.

In Shenhav's view, the liberal Left focuses on the war against the settlements in order to preserve Israel within the Green Line, and in this way sentences the refugee issue to oblivion. The return of tens of thousands of settlers to within the Green Line is, in his opinion, a fantasy of the liberal Left, which does not deal at all with the morality of such an evacuation. And as if that were not enough, he adds: "The 'moderate Left' participated actively in normalizing the moral injustices that Green-Line Israel created." Shenhav claims that the mental terror created by the demographic discourse does violence to the Palestinians and, no less so, to the Jews.

Shenhav says he does not deny the right of the Jews, as a national collective, to self-determination. But at the same time, he proposes a model that will include the return of any Palestinian refugees that so desire, so as to realize the legitimate rights of both nations in the space they share.

After being attacked by Barak from the right and by philosophers such as Shenhav from the left, it is not surprising that the peace camp is in trouble.