Dispute Over Temple Mount Intensifies
Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan recently called for changing the status quo on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, the ancient site of both biblical Temples, so that Jewish people can pray there in the future.
“I think that there is an injustice in the status quo there that has been in place since 1967, and we need to act to change it,” he said in an interview with Israel’s 90FM radio.
Erdan made the comments after violent clashes erupted between Israeli security forces and Palestinian worshipers, who were furious that Jerusalem police let Jews enter the Temple Mount to mark the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av, which coincided with the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. On Tisha B’Av, Jewish people commemorate the destruction of both the first and second Temples in Jerusalem (586 BC and AD 70, respectively).
The status quo in place today emerged following the Six-Day War in June 1967, when Israeli forces conquered eastern Jerusalem and the Old City, including the Western Wall and Temple Mount—the holiest sites in Judaism. At the behest of then Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, who feared a war between Islam and Judaism, Israel immediately relinquished sovereignty of the Mount to the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, a caretaker agency controlled by Jordan. Ever since, the Waqf has severely restricted Jewish access to the site, and every Israeli government has upheld the status quo.
Unsurprisingly, Jordan quickly denounced Erdan’s comments. “The Kingdom of Jordan rejects declarations of this kind and warns against any move that could change the situation and the historic, legal status quo,” a spokesman for the Jordanian Foreign Ministry said. He also warned against “the dangerous repercussions of such a change” and called on Israel to respect the current arrangement.
Jordan, however, has itself been changing the status quo by laying claim to the Golden Gate, which is part of the Temple Mount’s eastern wall.
In February 2019, Palestinian rioters broke open the locked entrance to a large chamber behind the Golden Gate that had been closed since 2003 by court order to prevent the Waqf from carrying out illegal excavation work there. Since then, the Waqf has renovated the site, known to Arabs as the Gate of Mercy, and turned it into a de facto fifth permanent mosque on the Temple Mount.
Jordan also recently approved expanding the Waqf from 11 to 18 members and for the first time allowed the Palestinian Authority (PA), as well as someone close to the Turkish government, to have a foothold in the council. The extraordinary move was ostensibly aimed at ensuring “Muslim unity” to prevent Jewish people from worshiping on the Mount.
Palestinians claim Israel wants to build a synagogue in the Golden Gate compound. The Jerusalem-based al-Quds newspaper claimed that efforts to prevent Muslims from accessing the site constitute a step in Israel’s plan to divide the Temple Mount between Muslims and Jews in terms of place and prayer times. “Ever since Trump declared Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Israel has been racing to Judaize Jerusalem and divide the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the way to its removal and the establishment of the Temple in its place,” the article claimed.
Some analysts believe the changes reflect efforts by Jordan and the PA to derail U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s Middle East peace plan. “The announcement by the new head of the Islamic Waqf Council of the intention to rebuild the ‘Gate of Mercy’ compound and repurpose it into a prayer site is a provocation aimed at violating the status quo and renewing the struggle for Temple Mount control,” wrote Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television. “This is a flagrant violation of the status quo and is an apparent provocation as part of the Jordanian-Palestinian plan to torpedo Trump’s ‘deal of the century.’”