Gedalyah Reback

Both Sides Need to Make Painful Compromises – except the Temple Mount?

John Kerry had a chance to say something to call out Mahmoud Abbas and his justification to try to assassinate someone advocating for peaceful change. Instead he gave in to violence. He said he supported the status quo because changing it would be “provocative and dangerous.” Not unlike making people take risks for a two-state solution, right Mr. Kerry? Let’s go through this statement by the Secretary of State line by line.

“The continued commitment by Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians to preserve the historic status quo at this holy site is critical; any decisions or actions to change it would be both provocative and dangerous.”

Anything. ANYTHING that offers to change the status of the Temple Mount is provocative and dangerous, so Jews shouldn’t be advocating for as little as praying at their holiest site. They should disassociate themselves from it. That is further emphasized here:

The Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount must be re-opened to Muslim worshipers and I support the long-standing practices regarding non-Muslim visitors to the site, consistent with respect for the status quo arrangements governing religious observance there.

This statement explicitly sides with Muslim worshipers against Jewish rights at the site. The status quo on observance there is that Jews aren’t allowed to pray at the site at all. There is no atmosphere of peace at the site because rioting and stoning and molotov cocktails are rewarded with fear. Foreign governments are too afraid to issue a statement calling for peaceful access to non-Muslim worshipers.

US Secretary of State John Kerry (photo credit: US Department of State/File)

But then the statement shifts in way that can only be described as pure chutzpah. The US State Department has never shied away from demanding people make painful compromises for peace when it comes to the Israelis, but *holy* crap, when are you going to expect the same of the Palestinians?

“We still believe it (the peace process) is doable, but it takes courage and it takes strength. Both sides have to be prepared to compromise in order to do it.”

Listen to your own words, Mr. Secretary. You demand painful compromises, but negotiations go both ways. You mention in back to back sentences that the status quo uncompromising to Jews on the Temple Mount should be maintained, yet both sides need to be prepared to compromise in order to negotiate, presumably over everything except what you so explicitly declared should have its status quo maintained.

An Orthodox Jew stands facing the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem on July 24, 2013 (photo credit: Lucie March/Flash 90)

Palestinians have historically rioted at any suggestion of change on the Mount, real or imagined. The 1929 Hebron pogrom was instigated by such a rumor that Jews secretly planned to destroy the Dome of the Rock and immediately build the Temple in its place. Even today, Palestinian politicians and intellectuals routinely deny the sanctity of the place to Jews, despite a plethora of Islamic sources testifying to it.

“The Al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits on 144 dunams, is holy for Muslims, not Jews. Jews should find their holy places elsewhere until the coming of the messiah, as their rabbis say. I don’t recognize the name Temple Mount. The Jews have nothing to look for there.”


– Taleb Abu Arar (Ra’am-Ta’al)

Yet, no one on the international level ever stands them to be corrected. These statements come despite a plethora of Islamic sources testifying to the site’s sanctity to Jews, ignored for the purpose of political incitement:

“The Rock was in the time of Solomon the son of David 12 cubits high and there was a dome over it…It is written in the Torah [Bible]: ‘Be happy Jerusalem,’ which is Bayt al-Maqdis and the Rock which is called Haykal.”

– al-Wasati, Fada’il al Bayt al-Muqaddas, ed. Izhak Hasson (Jerusalem, 1979) pp. 72ff

When is someone actually going to say that no one has negotiated the Temple Mount in a fair and viable way that allows Jews to utilize their HOLIEST site? Why are Jews surrendering their religious rights to their first holiest site, a site that at its core is indispensable in Judaism, but Muslims get unfettered access to their 3rd holiest simply because people threaten to riot?

In the words of Martin Kramer, a scholar of Islam I have cited many times in my own papers on the subject:

“Whether it is called the Temple Mount or al-Haram al-Sharif, this corner of Jerusalem is the physical overlap between Judaism and Islam. Verse 17 of the Qur’an, quoted above, is entitled Bani Isra’il, the Children of Israel. The present-day State of Israel has acknowledged the sanctity of the site for present-day Muslims, in the interest of peace. For Muslims to question or even deny the existence of the Temples, in disregard of the Qur’an and Muslim tradition, is to cast doubt upon the very sources which underpin their own claim.”


Martin Kramer, Shalem College in Jerusalem

You will never get Palestinians to compromise for peace if you don’t tell them they need to calm down and stop whining about the Temple Mount every single chance they get. For all your rhetoric, you are really no difference and no more revolutionary than anyone else who has tried to change this conflict. You had a chance to signal to Israelis that you are committed to their interests and that Jewish concerns over holy sites in future negotiations will be heard. You messed up big time. At this point, you really might as well resign, or amend your statement.

The US Congress has made statements in the past affirming Palestinian efforts to stymie Jewish claims to the Mount, noting in the Temple Mount Preservation Act of 2001, that the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Islamic Movement have consistently destroyed archaeological connections to the first two Temples, violated security agreements with Israel and in total definitely undermined the status quo on the Temple Mount. Though it was only introduced in the House and not voted on, its statement speaks volumes that the US government is well aware of the imbalance that has existed on the Mount for decades. One excerpt:

Section 2 (9) In early 1998, the Waqf, controlled by the Palestinian Authority, began further excavation. A major underground mosque hall was inaugurated in August 1999 and an emergency exit was opened to a mosque located on the Temple Mount. The exit is 18,000 square feet in size and up to 36 feet deep, and thousands of tons of ancient fills from the site were dumped into the Kidron Valley. Archeologists have subsequently determined that artifacts dumped into the Kidron Valley from the Temple Mount dated from the period of the First Temple (circa 1006 B.C. (B.C.E.) to 586 B.C. (B.C.E.)).

You could get many people in the Religious Zionist camp to open their ears if you would discuss the importance of sharing this exact site. You would cause a new debate among people, all be it slow and bitter yet more of a debate than has existed in the past. Your statement merely reinforces the view spreading throughout the entire Israeli right wing that listening to the United States is not a viable option whatsoever. You just weakened the rational voices that say spiteful announcements of new building projects only make matters worse. You have taken away the carrot and the stick. Mr. Kerry, your simple statement, obvious in its generality and lack of substance, reinforces the eroding situation and ensures it gets worse. You had a moment where you could have invited Religious Zionists into the process, even if only a few of us, and you totally blew it.

But you know what, I’m gonna let you finish.

If you are serious about this process meaning something, something that takes time and really compromises between the two sides, then hear my side out. Hear out the people who voted for HaBayit HaYehudi. Hear out the people that live in the West Bank and see how diverse they are. Listen to why the Temple Mount is a gamechanger and why so many of the Rabbis I know have advocated for it. You can come visit my apartment in Neve Daniel. You can ask Jimmy Carter about the town – he’s been here before. We have a guest bedroom and plenty of places for guards to stake out and chill. I voted for you in 2004, so we can reminisce about your battle with George W. Bush. Just note that my son is prone to waking up in the middle of the night. I won’t promise you everyone will fall over themselves to rush your presence or immediately accept everything you suggest, but this community has not been incorporated in any vision of the future.

The Temple Mount and concerns of Religious Zionist Israelis have been marginalized from peace talks since they were initiated. Compromises in the past saw that Israel would have sovereignty under the Mount while Palestine would have sovereignty over it. The inherent problem in that is that the archaeology of the site, which is what that arrangement assumes, is an emphasis on the past while Jews have been declaring their wishes about its future for 2,000 years. A real compromise means effective and meaningful utilization of the site for Muslims and for Jews. If this is not a zero-sum game, then no vital element of the peace process can be treated as if it actually is.

About the Author
Gedalyah Reback is an experienced writer on technology, startups, the Middle East and Islam. He also focuses on issues of personal status in Judaism, namely conversion.
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