Share the Temple Mount

Sheikh Ra'ad Salah's calls for a jihad against Israel worked. At the last minute, the government was deterred from executing its plan to demolish the mosques on the Temple Mount and from exploiting the Sukkot pilgrimage to Jerusalem to lay the cornerstone of the Third Temple. For fear of Intifada III, the transfer of East Jerusalem Arabs to Umm al-Fahm was also put on hold.

When Jews are accused of harboring the most absurd intentions, the world media chorus, joined by a few Israeli soloists, fans the flames without bothering to check the facts. And though inflammatory nonsense about diabolical plans has been repeated every few months over the past 40 years, it is of course Israel that is accused of playing with fire that can only lead to war between Islam and Judaism. MK Ibrahim Sarsur was a bit more modest: He merely warned of an impending world war.

The original sin came soon after paratroop commander Motta Gur radioed his historic announcement - "The Temple Mount is in our hands" - on June 7, 1967. Instead of accustoming the dazed Islamic world to a natural and understandable Jewish presence on the Mount, defense minister Moshe Dayan ordered that it be handed over to the Waqf, the religious endowment entrusted with looking after Muslim property. And when the Waqf saw that the Jews were not aware of the historical, religious and political significance of this concession, it transformed the Jewish people's holiest site into an autonomous Palestinian religious-governmental center and kept the Jews out.

The rabbinic establishment then reinforced Dayan's historic folly by forbidding Jews from entering the Temple Mount compound for religious reasons. Thus the government and the rabbinate together bolstered the Palestinian Arab narrative, which maintains that the place is holy for Muslims alone.

The fact that the Muslim world has never responded to the frequent calls for jihad by Sheikh Salah and his cohorts has done nothing to alter the false Jewish idea that a Jewish presence on the Temple Mount would lead to a religious war between Islam and Judaism. This destructive notion has enabled the Arabs to do as they wish on the Mount and in other parts of Jerusalem, including running national and governmental centers in Israel's capital.

The most prominent of these used to be Orient House, about which a document submitted to a previous administration declared that taking control of it was "liable to set the Middle East alight." But when the Palestinians went too far, security forces did occupy the building, where they found weapons as well as intelligence documents. It was shut down, and apart from a poorly attended protest - where many of the demonstrators were Israeli Jews - the Middle East reacted the way it reacts to the cries of "Wolf! Wolf!" about the Temple Mount. And so Orient House dropped out of the headlines and fell into oblivion.

Dayan also left the keys of the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron in the Waqf's hands. But in Hebron, the Jews refused to surrender their rights, so the government was forced - despite threats of a religious war - to grant equal prayer time to Jews and Arabs. And over the last 30 years, despite Baruch Goldstein's massacre of Muslims at prayer and other grave incidents, both Muslims and Jews have grown used to the status quo.

Even at this late date, it is essential to equalize Jews' status on the Temple Mount with that of Muslims (excepting, of course, the right to enter the mosques). The Arabs will threaten a jihad and condemnations will pour in from all sides. But in time, Jewish determination will make the Muslims and their Jewish backers get used to the new reality. And the police, thousands of whom are currently plagued by Salah's habit of stirring up trouble during the Jewish holidays, will be able to spend these festivals with their families, just like other Israelis do.