Provocation? And if so, by whom?

The Jerusalem Post reported on Wednesday that there is a big “pilgrimage” being planned for Thursday by a “group of activists dedicated to bringing Jews to the Temple Mount” (known to Muslims as the Haram as-Sharif, where Al-Aqsa Mosque is located, in the Old City of East Jerusalem.

The JPost story said that these activists “were hoping to see hundreds of participants take part in a planned ‘mass pilgrimage’ to the mount scheduled for Thursday morning in honor of Hanukka, which celebrates the rededication of the Second Temple after it was recovered from Hellenist Greeks more than 2,000 years ago.  The pilgrimage, which will include guided tours of the area throughout the morning, will also be a litmus test for the shaky calm that has prevailed in Jerusalem ‘s Old City since October, when rumors of a ‘Jewish takeover’ of the mount sparked fierce clashes between Arab rioters and security forces in and around the sensitive holy site and in various neighborhoods of east Jerusalem. The rumors were fueled in part by calls at the time, from a number of Knesset members and prominent national-religious rabbis, that Jews ascend to the Temple Mount with increased vigor. Those calls were portrayed, in turn, by Palestinian clerics as nefarious plans to invade the site or build a synagogue there”.

Actually, as we have reported earlier here, the Palestinian fears relate to a gradual forced occupation of part of Al-Aqsa Mosque, or of the mosque esplanade, that will result in a “sharing” of the site similar to what has existed for more than 15 years at the very important Ibrahimi (Abraham) mosque in the West Bank city of Hebron, where Abraham and his wife Sarah and some of their descendants are buried. The “sharing” of the Ibrahimi Mosque — under Israeli military occupation and control — means that the site has become off-limits to Muslim worshippers for days at a time, notably during lengthy Jewish holidays.

The JPost article continues: “The mount, which was the location of both the First and Second Jewish Temples from 960 BCE until 70 AD, is also home to the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aksa Mosque, which is considered the third-holiest shrine in Islam. Nonetheless, a representative of the Organization for the Renewal of the Temple (ORT) – which is organizing Thursday’s event – told the Post on Tuesday there had been no indication the planned pilgrimage would cause renewed disturbances, even though tensions around the site are always high, and Tuesday was no exception. Members of the group who had gone up to the mount on Tuesday were reportedly accosted by a group of Arabs as they exited the site and headed into the Old City’s Muslim Quarter. Yosef Rabin, an ORT member, told the Post that the scuffle broke out after a number of Arabs standing nearby became enraged when his colleagues started to sing Hanukka songs and dance as they departed. ‘And that was completely legal’, Rabin said. ‘We were no longer on the mount itself, and the police officers who were with us said it was okay to begin singing. Police were quick to break up the fighting, Rabin added, but detained two of the group’s members. A police spokesman contacted on Tuesday evening was unable to immediately verify Rabin’s account. Nevertheless, Rabin said, the trip had been calm and quiet up until the fighting broke out, and he added that his group was pursuing its goal of promoting awareness of the mount ‘through legal means only’. ‘We do everything legally and in conjunction with the police’, Rabin said“…

Again, the problem is the matter of the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and the Old City of East Jerusalem, which was not brought under Israeli control at the time the Jewish state was created — and only came under Israeli control after the Israeli military conquest in the June 1967 Six-Day War.

Since then, Israel has extended its law and administration to the Old City and to the rest of East Jerusalem and also to other adjacent areas that it effectively annexed unilaterally into something Israel calls the “Greater Jerusalem Municipal area”. This effective annexation has been condemned and declared “null and void” but the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council, but Israel insists that “united Jerusalem” is the eternal capital of Israel (the Knesset passed such a law in 1980), and will never again be “divided” (the Palestinians say they hope it will be “shared”).

The facts on the ground show that Israel is unilaterally re-drawing the borders of this “Greater Jerusalem Municipal area” again, through the construction of The Wall in and around East Jerusalem. But there has not been any official proclamation to this effect, and the status of thousands of East Jerusalem Palestinians who are still, at least technically, permanent residents (though not citizens) of the State of Israel is increasingly unclear and precarious.

In today’s JPost article, Rabin explained that “Our focus is on bringing people to the Temple Mount, nothing else … And we’ve been making hundreds of phone calls, using lists we have, and sending out e-mails and Facebook messages to try and get as many people as possible to come … Little by little, we’re going to take back the mount’, he continued. ‘And it will be done without violence or force’.”

This JPost article can be read in full here.

According to a “sharing” arrangement made by Israel’s Minister of Defense in 1967, Moshe Dayan, the top of the Haram as-Sharif mosque esplanade was controlled by the Islamic Waqf (or Trust Foundation), while the Western Wall revered in Judaism as part of the supporting structure for the Second and possibly also the First Jewish Temples is controlled by Israel. [According to an Israeli guide who conducted a recent tour for journalists sponsored by the Israeli Government Press Office of the tunnels alongside a still-buried part of the Western Wall (only one-third is currently exposed), there has been no physical evidence, or remnants, or relics, yet found of the presence on that site of the First Jewish Temple. However, some Israelis fear that the secretive removal by Muslim authorities of earth excavated during a current extended renovation project to enlarge the sub-structure of the Al-Aqsa Mosque may have damaged or caused to disappear any possible Jewish remains…]

The Islamic Waqf (Trust) authorities, incidentally, are currently again appointed by Jordan (as they had been from 1948), following a period after the signing of the Oslo Accords starting in September 1993 between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), during which the Waqf officials were appointed solely by the Palestinian Authority.

The Western Wall and the Haram as-Sharif have been the sites of significant clashes during the past century between Muslims and Jews, two of three monotheistic religions that regard sites in the Old City of East Jerusalem as having extreme spiritual significance.

The Jerusalem Post reported a week ago what it said were details of the so-far unconfirmed offers made in the inconclusive “Annapolis” process of direct Israel-Palestinian negotiations that began under the George Bush administration in late November 2007 with the aim of creating a Palestinian state by the end of 2008 (or, at the very least, by the end of the Bush administration’s term in office in January 2009). Instead, the Israeli Defense Forces launched a massive military onslaught against what they said were Hamas targets in Gaza on 27 December 2008, in reaction to which the Palestinian leadership called off negotiations with Israel — which have still not resumed.

In any case, the JPost story last week said, “During Olmert’s tenure, then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni offered to establish a Palestinian state on 92.7 percent of the territories conquered in the Six Day War. The map presented to Palestinian negotiators did not include the Jordan Valley as part of the State of Israel … Channel 10 reported. In return for 7.3% that Israel would annex, it would offer the Palestinians 3% in land swaps. According to a Channel 10 analyst, there were already decisions on what land would be swapped in return to retaining settlement blocs … The Palestinians, according to the report, have for the first time ever presented the Israeli team with their own maps. The Palestinians were willing forego only 1.9% of the Judea and Samaria territories, but they were willing to accept that Gush Etziyon, Modi’in and several other settlement remain in Israeli hands. In Jerusalem, the Palestinians were willing to accept the neighborhoods of Ramot, Ramot Alon, Ramat Shlomo, Pisgat Ze’ev, Neve Ya’akov, Ma’alot Dafna, French Hill and Gilo, the southern neighborhood which has recently become a sticking point not with the Palestinians but with the United States after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced that Israel would build several hundred new housing units there. However, according to the report, the Palestinians themselves have agreed to forego areas where they now demand Israel implement a complete halt to construction.  Olmert reportedly offered the PA an even more generous offer than Livni, offering that Israel annex only 6.5% and swap 5.8% of lands, so the Palestinian state would constitute 99.3$ of the 1967 territories.  He  [Olmert]  additionally offered that five Arab states would be involved in governing Jerusalem, which would be divided based on its demographics“. This earlier JPost report is published here.

UPDATE:  Haaretz has now published an interview with Abbas in which he revealed details of the Israeli-Palestinian direct negotiations under the Annapolis process, from his perspective: “In one of the three-way meetings during the talks, former U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice was present. I asked her for fications [sic – ?] regarding talks on the borders of the occupied lands. She said clearly that from the U.S. perspective this included the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and the no-man’s-land [the Latrun area] … The next day, we started talking about maps. Olmert showed me one map and I brought back one of ours. He showed me a new map and I brought back a map of ours. And so it went. We agreed that 1.9 percent would be with you and Olmert demanded 6.5 percent. It was a negotiation, we didn’t complete it. As a shopper enters a store, that’s how we held the talks”.  The Haaretz interview, conducted and reported by Avi Issacharoff, also reports that “According to Abbas, a few days before Operation Cast Lead, he told then-U.S. president George W. Bush that despite extensive American efforts, the talks had not been completed. ‘He asked me if it would be all right if on January 3 we sent [chief negotiator] Saeb Erekat, and Israel would send an envoy to complete the talks. But a few days before the departure for Washington, Saeb called Shalom [Turgeman, Olmert’s political adviser] and said the situation did not allow it. Everything got stuck’.  Abbas said discussions were held on refugees and Jerusalem, but no agreements were reached. ‘But let’s say Olmert understood the way things stood. He also agreed to the approach that what was Arab would remain in Arab hands’, Abbas said, referring to areas of Jerusalem. ‘On the matter of the holy places, he proposed international monitors’, Abbas said. He said he had agreed to an international force in the West Bank and Gaza after an Israeli withdrawal, and that ‘both sides had agreed to the presence of a third party.  First I suggested NATO and Olmert said the Americans wouldn’t agree. Then I proposed the European Union and he explained that they couldn’t. Then we agreed to the presence of UNIFIL, led by the Americans. President Bush agreed to that, the Egyptians agreed and you agreed’.  Asked whether talks are currently underway between Abbas and Netanyahu’s team, he said the two leaders haven’t been talking, but ‘talks are constantly underway between the parties on security and economic cooperation’.”  This Haaretz article can be read in full here.

Israeli revised plan for rebuilding Mughrabi Gate ramp may be approved soon

Green door of Mughrabi Gate to Haram as-Sharif - 12 June 2008

“Tensions may be heating up again about Israeli reconstruction plans for a damaged ramp leading from the Western Wall Plaza in the Old City of Jerusalem, where Jewish worshippers pray at Judaism’s most sacred and revered site, up to the Mughrabi Gate entrance to the Haram as-Sharif mosque esplanade, the third holiest site of Islam. A revised Israeli design to rebuild the ramp is expected to receive Israeli government approval imminently…”

Ramp under repair leading from Western Wall Plaza in Jerusalem up to Mughrabi Gate entrance to Haram as-Sharif - 12 June 2008

Read the full post here .