Israel and Jordan are reported to be in talks to reopen mosques on the Temple Mount to non-Muslim visitors after more than 15 years, Haaretz reported on Monday.
According to the report, the two countries have been holding covert negotiations for several months. Israel, who currently controls security on the Mount and access to the holy site, is said to believe that opening the mosques to paying visitors will incentivize the Muslim Waqf, who manages religious affairs on the Temple Mount, to keep the peace.
One under control of the Palestinian Authority, the Waqf has come under a growing Jordanian influence over the last several years. Should the plan come to fruition, it would be the first time since 2000 that there is full coordination between Israel, Jordan and the PA.
The International Crisis Group, a Brussels based NGO, revealed the initial details of the negotiations in a report which is scheduled to be published in full on Tuesday. The authors of the report concluded that after meeting with Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian officials, the opening of mosques to paying visitors would be the best and most feasible way of achieving peace on the Mount.
One of the main demands being made by Jordan is the banning of two types of visitors – soldiers in uniform and religious Jews who, Jordan fears, may try and pray on the Temple Mount.
An official from the Prime Minister’s Office denied the NGO’s report and said Israel is not seeking to change the status quo on the holy site. “There are no negotiations and no change in the status quo at the Temple Mount,” he said.
The Temple Mount has become an increasingly hot button issue in Israel. Jews are forbidden by the Waqf from praying on the site and are routinely verbally abused and physically harassed by gangs of Muslims when ascending the Mount.
The Temple Mount is considered to be the holiest site in all of Judaism and the third most holy site in Islam. The Temple Mount compound is the location where the first and second Jewish Temple stood.
Until 2000, Jewish and Christian visitors were allowed to enter various mosques on the Temple Mount, including the Dome of the Rock, Al Aqsa Mosque and the Islamic Museum upon paying for a ticket. However, with the start of the Second Intifada in September 2000, Israel banned Jews and tourists from ascending the Mount.
In 2003, despite fierce opposition from Jordan and the Waqf, Israel reopened access to the holy site for all. Muslim violence on the holy site increased dramatically, with clashes between Palestinian rioters and Israeli police becoming commonplace.
A major turning point occurred in November 2014 amid heightened tensions and outbreaks of terror attacks against Israelis for what the Palestinians said were in defense of Al Aqsa. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Amman to meet with Jordan’s King Abdullah, accompanied by US Secretary of State John Kerry, to try and calm tensions.
Since that meeting, Israel has taken visible strides to appease Jordan and the Waqf as part of efforts to reduce tensions. Majority of restrictions for Muslim access to the Mount were lifted while restrictions on Jewish access were increased.
The prime minister ordered MKs and ministers to not visit the Mount, which has mostly been obeyed except for one visit by former MK Moshe Feiglin. Most politicians have dropped the issue from their agenda while Israeli security forces have become more vigilant in preventing Temple Mount activists from ascending the site.
Famous Temple Mount champion Rabbi Yehuda Glick has faced a long and almost deadly struggle in his quest to achieve open access for Jews to the holy site. In October 2014, Glick survived an assassination attempt by a Palestinian terrorist who wanted to kill him for his work on the Temple Mount.
During the month of Ramadan violence sees an uptick on the Mount. Commenting on recent reports of an ISIS flag being flown on the Temple Mount, Glick told Breaking Israel News, “The situation on the Temple Mount is very worrying.”
“The situation in general among Muslim leadership where, for some reason, celebrations like Ramadan are immediately interpreted as a celebrations of violence and terror is something that is very sad, mostly on the Muslim side,” he stated.
“Of course, in terms of the State of Israel, we think the government of Israel should implement order on the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount should not be a place for demonstrating, and definitely not ISIS. I do hope that the authorities and police make sure it doesn’t happen again.”