As more Arab countries normalize relations with Israel, more Muslim Arabs are calling for Israel to take control away from the Palestinian Waqf.
Israel Organizations Request UAE Prince to Recognize Jewish Right to pray on the Temple Mount
Two weeks ago, several organizations wrote a letter to the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Muhammad bin Zayed, calling on him to recognize the right of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount. The letter, reported in the Hebrew language news site Makor Rishon, was sent at the initiative of the “Middle East Forum – Israel” and among the organizations that signed it can also be found Lech Yerushalayim, Hazon Leumi, Lada’at, The Temple Mount Heritage Foundation, The Association for the Advancement of the Druze Soldier, and Pulse Of Israel.
“Perhaps it is time to exercise the faith of both sides,” they wrote to Ben-Zayed. “By allowing Jews and Muslims to pray on the Temple Mount in harmony and consent, without trampling on each other’s rights and freedoms.” Representatives of the organizations added: “We suggest you join Israeli leaders to visit the place and pray for the success of peace, prosperity, and stability in the region for all.”
Representatives added that a joint visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and possibly also by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas could constitute a historic visit that “will shatter the paradigm and lead to a new era of peace and equality,” they said.
Representatives of the organizations signed the letter saying that they “fully appreciate the importance of the UAE statement that Jews have deep roots in the region, and that they belong here. This is a very significant statement, which is a significant backup to the sanctity of the Temple Mount for both peoples.”
Neve Daromi, Executive Director of the Middle East Forum – Israel, added that “peace agreements are an opportunity to break old paradigms that have been established due to weakness and a lack of faith in the rightness of the way. As we in Israel recognize the right of Muslims to pray in the holy place for them, so we have the expectation that there will be Muslim recognition of the right of Jews who will be able to exercise their religious affiliation to the Temple Mount”
Palestinian Waqf “Thuggery” a “National Embarrassment”; New Solution
It is interesting to note that in an article published last week, Josiah Rotenberg, a member of the Board of Governors of the Middle East Forum, blamed Israel for leaving the administration of the Temple Mount in the hands of the Muslim Waqf, a move she said created “a national and international embarrassment.”
“How is it also that the grand mufti of Jerusalem Sheikh, Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, has denied any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount?” Rotenberg wrote. In recent weeks, how had he ruled that it is forbidden for UAE or Bahrain nationals who enter Israel via Israel to enter the Temple Mount?
“Because the Israeli Government allows this kind of behavior to take place. It allows a small and unrepresentative group of Muslims from eastern Jerusalem to administer the Temple Mount. The results are a national and international embarrassment.”
Rotenberg went on to decry the prohibition against Jewish prayer and the tacit permission by the Israeli authorities that allows the Muslim authority to carry out construction projects that are thinly veiled efforts intended to desecrate and destroy irreplaceable artifacts from the Jewish Temples.
“The list goes and on. The point is clear: it is time to change who makes decisions on the Temple Mount,” Rotenberg insisted. “This arrangement in which the Israeli Government allows control of the Temple Mount to reside with an organization that it does not officially recognize – and which does not recognize it – continues to the present.”
Rotenberg cited several examples of Arabs from Gulf states who are now calling for Israel to express autonomy over the site. Saudi Journalist Abdel Rahman Al-Lahim tweeted, “It is very important for the Emiratis and Bahrainis to discuss with Israel ways of liberating the Al-Aqsa Mosque from Palestinian thugs in order to protect visitors from Palestinian thuggery.”
Laila Al-Awadhi, an Emirati political activist, tweeted, “Are these the ethics of hospitality for the Palestinians ?! Is it one of the fundamentals of religion to insult the mosque ?! Is this the morals of the Arabs ?! We will visit Al-Aqsa because it does not belong to you, it belongs to all Muslims”
In the article, Rotenberg offered a solution.
“The time has come to replace the Supreme Muslim Council with an international council with representatives from Muslim nations that formally recognize Israel, as well as representatives from Israel, both Jewish and Muslim and the Palestinian Authority (if it is willing). Israeli Muslims, in particular, have a unique opportunity to help bridge the divide between their Jewish fellow citizens and their co-religionists around the world.”
“In addition to requiring diplomatic relations with Israel, each state must acknowledge Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount. That includes abiding by all relevant Israeli laws and regulations including building codes as well as acknowledging that Israel is responsible for security. Israel has the right to remove the grand mufti under certain conditions (for example, inciting violence against). Finally, the new organization acknowledges the right of anyone, regardless of their religion, to pray on the Temple Mount.”
The calls by the Emiratis come while Muslims from other countries are demanding similar action. This week, a Saudi Arabian journalist wrote an article in a prominent Saudi newspaper decrying the myth that the Temple Mount is a holy site in Islam. He explained the Aqsa Mosque (the far mosque) described in the Koran is actually located in Al Ju’ranah, near Mecca in Saudi Arabia and not on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Potential for Muslim Tourism
The letter from the Israelis to Sheikh bin Zayed preceded the arrival of a delegation of officials from the UAE who visited Israel last month with the intent of furthering the Abraham Accords signed September 15. One of the main goals of the visit is reported to be the influx of Gulf tourists to Israel, particularly to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.
Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahum visited the UAE last week. In the wake of his visit, he estimated that 100,000-250,000 Muslim tourists from the region will come to Jerusalem in the future.
“Just as we developed Christian tourism, we plan to work to develop Muslim tourism,” Hassan-Nahum told Israel Hayom. “There is huge turnaround in the works.”