It’s taken 20 years but the Temple Mount has become mainstream. Up to the last decade of the twentieth century, few if any mainstream Israeli rabbis visited the Temple Mount. It took the near assassination last month of Yehuda Glick to generate a significant change in public attitude to Jewish rights on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Suddenly, it’s respectable to be a Temple Mount enthusiast.
But will this result in a change of policy which gives expression to Jews having equal prayer rights to Muslims? In calling to the Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to ‘lower the volume’ on the Temple Mount last week Netanyahu, has made clear that there will be no change to the status quo.
Netanyahu continues with a Dayanesque rejection of the Temple Mount — notwithstanding its significance as the holiest shrine to Judaism. The status quo was created at the end of the 1967 war when Moshe Dayan gave the Arabs administrative powers to conduct prayers in the El Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock; the Jews, Dayan envisaged, would suffice with the Western Wall.
Netanyahu was burned by the episode of the opening of the Tunnel Walls in 1996 and the violent Arab reaction that followed. Since then, he treads overly cautiously and zealously looks over his shoulder to Amman. Even though the Israel-Jordanian peace treaty of 1994 does give Jordan a ‘say’ in Temple Mount affairs this is only for any future negotiations for a final agreement for the Holy Places.
But Netanyahu has cynically interpreted the treaty otherwise, seeing both a need now, and a cynical interest to draw kudos from Rabat Amman. As Oded Eran, the former Israel ambassador to Jordan, remarked to the New York Times last week, Jordan benefits as much as Israel from the bilateral peace agreement — including in defense and intelligence cooperation, and cooperation on gas and water supplies. “The Jerusalem issue is not going to threaten the peace treaty.”
A closer examination of the events following the 1967 war shows that Netanyahu’s hesitations are unwarranted. In a symbolic gesture Dayan gave the Wakf the keys to the mosque. But his intent was not to give the Wakf control over the entire Temple Mount plaza but only to enable them to administer their prayer services in the Dome of the Rock and El Aqsa – which comprise some fifteen percent of the area of the Mount’s plaza. There is no reason why Jews may not pray in the remaining eighty-five percent of the plaza. Today, there is a different Wakf in control — one that never reached an understanding with Israel. The Jordanian Wakf and the Jordanian Mufti with which Dayan spoke in 1967 were thrown off the mount in a putsch in the 1990s by the Palestinian Mufti.
The 1967 war caught Israeli politicians and even rabbis off guard. In one sense, Dayan, in failing to appreciate the long-term consequences of his deed, reflected the atmosphere prevalent throughout Israel on the eve of the war. In May 1967 all that Israel wanted was to survive the oncoming war against Nasser. The results of the war were a pleasant surprise. In the case of Jerusalem Dayan failed to relate its significance to the wider historic role of Judaism. Even Begin in the war coalition government called for opening the mosque to Arabs — failing to appreciate the nationalist significance of any action which in practice surrendered Jewish sovereignty.
Dayan may have a deserved reputation in Israeli military history, but with regard to the Temple Mount his name and reputation are muddied in nationalist-religious circles today.
But Netanyahu cannot draw upon Dayan’s ignorance. Netanyahu’s third government is characterized by containment and damage control.
A reading of the Bible, in particular the Biblical Book of Leviticus (“Vayikra”) confirms the significance and centrality of Temple worship in Judaism. By contrast, the Western Wall is an outer retaining wall and lacks any intrinsic holiness. Though an avid reader of the Bible, and a claimed believer in God, Netanyahu has little patience for religious ritual, giving shortshrift to religious ritual like Temple renewal as `fundamentalist’.
Things have changed on the Israeli side since Dayan’s 1967 past war agreement with the Jordanian Wakf. Thirty years ago, Temple activism was perceived as the concern of a couple of cranks. Today, leading modern orthodox rabbis favor Jews ascending the Temple Mount.
The late chief rabbis Shlomo Goren and Mordechai Eliahu also favored strengthened Jewish presence on the Temple Mount. Some modern orthodox rabbis recognize that there is a consensus of halakhic views over the location of the Temple buildings and that there are no obstacles to ascending the mount in terms of religious law, as long as one refrains from entering certain areas notably the Dome of the Rock, the traditional site of the Temple.
Mainstream Likud politicians including Ministers Uri Ariel, Tzipi Hotovely and MKs Zeev Elkin, Moshe Feiglin, Miri Regev, and Shuli Mualem have raised the question of Jews’ access at the parliamentary level.
Netanyahu fails to recognize the new reality on the Temple Mount. Hamas have become active players. This together with the Islamic Movement actively hinders Jewish access to the Temple Mount. Arab women are paid by the Wakf to be provocative and scream at Jews `Al Ahbar’ and take photographs of them and upload these on Arab websites. Arab leaders including Abu Mazen manipulate the situation for their political goals.
Netanyahu should take a leaf out of Micky Levy’s book, the then police commander of Jerusalem, who in 2003 opened the Temple Mount to Jews after it had been closed to non-Muslims for four years by the Wakf. Levy tactically did so at a time when the downfall of Saddam Hussein led to a crisis in Arab morale. By contrast, following the debacle of Hamas this Summer, Netanyahu — rather than, say, act to strengthen Jewish prayer rights there — sought to `extend a hand’ to the defeated and opened the Temple Mount to visits from Palestinians from the Gaza Strip. And, even though the stair access to the Moghrabi Gate, is not part of the Temple Mount, Netanyahu cancelled its reconstruction after protests from Jordan.
King Herod justly earned his place as an icon in the annals of Jewish History by extending the Second Jewish temple – turning it into one of the most beautiful and majestic structures in the Middle East at the time. Bibi is no Herod. Chicken – or `chickengate’ star – he may be.