Who Is This Netanyahu That's Involving Muslims in Jerusalem Affairs?

If Netanyahu were opposition leader, instead of prime minister, he would have tarred and feathered anyone who decided to defer the demolition of the Mughrabi Gate.

If Benjamin Netanyahu were opposition leader and the prime minister allowed the Arabs to put their noses near the bedrock of our faith, Bibi would demand that he be tarred, feathered and paraded in disgrace throughout "our eternally united Jerusalem." But Netanyahu is prime minister, and he's allowing Muslims to intervene in Jerusalem affairs. Not really Jerusalem, just the Western Wall area.

Netanyahu's request to defer the demolition of the dilapidated bridge that leads to the Mughrabi Gate and the installation of a new bridge has no political or religious justification. Less than two months ago, Israeli officials traveled to Jordan and worked out a detailed agreement to put up a temporary bridge, one that will not cause an iota of harm to the interests of the Waqf, the Muslim religious trust. All was done in agreeable consultation with UNESCO officials, who are supposed to monitor the work.

Amos Biderman - 29112011
Amos Biderman

According to a UNESCO document dated October 4 obtained by Haaretz, the organization's executive board reaffirms that no steps will be taken to disturb the site's unity and authenticity. The board says it is happy with Israel's consent to allow three delegations of the Jordanian Waqf to visit the Mughrabi Ascent last year. The executive board adds that it has received minutes of meetings in which Israel and Jordan agreed on coordination procedures for renovating the site.

At the last minute, when the heavy equipment was ready to carry the new metal bridge to the Western Wall area, Jordan's King Abdullah got cold feet. Pressured by Islamic groups in Jordan and Egypt, headed by Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the king asked that the renovation be postponed. As always, he wanted to verify that a request along the same lines would come from Washington.

Bonanza for Barkat

Last Thursday the Jerusalem municipality's deadline for the Western Wall Heritage Foundation to replace the Mughrabi Bridge passed. The foundation's chairman, Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, now has the legal status of an offender, and he will receive a court summons. Rabinovitch's collection of cellphone numbers is like a Who's Who of the cabinet and Knesset.

Any dilemma Netanyahu faces in Jerusalem, particularly regarding the holy places, is a bonanza for Mayor Nir Barkat. If the prime minister approves the project to replace the bridges, Barkat will be the toast of the right wing in the town. If he defers the project, the right will accuse him of surrendering to Arab demands and cowering behind Jerusalem's walls.

Barkat would profit from this scenario as well. The mayor can use reports by the city engineer and fire chief saying that the old bridge, the one Netanyahu is reluctant to tear down, is a safety hazard.

And what will happen if the putting up of the metal bridge leads to a sequel of the Western Wall Tunnel affair of 1996, which occurred at the start of Netanyahu's first term as prime minister? In riots that erupted after the tunnel opened, dozens of people died, including 17 Israeli soldiers. This tragic event didn't block the path of the city's mayor at the time, Ehud Olmert, to the premiership. (Olmert pressured Netanyahu to open the tunnel. ) Barkat's associates say he doesn't want to end his career at City Hall and is trying to position himself somewhere between Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

From Jordan to Egypt

The impasse on the Israeli-Palestinian track and Israel's settlement policies complicate the fragile balance maintained by the Jordanian regime; it also complicates efforts by Egypt's teetering regime to maintain the status quo in relations with Israel. A rumor about intentions to replace the old Mughrabi Bridge (mainly for the safety of Muslim worshippers ) automatically turns into an election slogan for the Muslim Brotherhood. President Shimon Peres visited Amman on Monday after he stopped concealing his disappointment about Netanyahu's policy on negotiations with the Palestinians.

As in the wave of anti-democratic legislation, the only person who can get Netanyahu to step down safely from the bridge impasse is Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein. The exit pass is hidden in a letter the attorney general's office sent at the end of August to Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser. One part says that if the police or any other agency (like the Shin Bet security service ) believes that the municipality is wielding its authority improperly, "we will return and consider this subject."

In 1997, during his first term as prime minister, Netanyahu relied on an opinion by the Shin Bet and then-Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein in order to evacuate a Jewish settlement in the heart of East Jerusalem's Ras al-Amud neighborhood. Netanyahu explained that the decision "promotes the unity of Jerusalem, the unity of the people and the continuation of the diplomatic process." In view of these considerations, there's nothing to do but pray that the bridge makes it safely through the winter.