Palestinians keep accusing Israel of planning to alter the status quo on the Temple Mount by tearing down the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock to make way for a Third Temple.
Preposterous, says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He insists repeatedly and loudly that Israel always has and will continue to respect and protect the status quo on Mt. Moriah, including banning Jewish prayer.
So where do Palestinians get such dangerous ideas?
From members of Netanyahu's own cabinet, starting with Minister of Agriculture Uri Ariel and Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely.
Hotovely said on Monday, “I think it's the center of Israeli sovereignty, the capital of Israel, the holiest place for the Jewish people. It’s my dream to see the Israeli flag flying on the Temple Mount.”
This wasn't the first time the Likud firebrand has said such things, but her timing only pours gasoline on the fires of the latest flare-up of Palestinian violence.
Netanyahu privately phoned and ordered Hotovely to shut up and clear all future public utterances with his office, which re-issued his policy statement of only two days earlier:
“Israel will continue to enforce its longstanding policy: Muslims pray on the Temple Mount; non-Muslims visit the Temple Mount. As we have said many times, Israel has no intention to divide the Temple Mount, and we completely reject any attempt to suggest otherwise.”
There's no telling what Hotovely was planning to tell a briefing for the foreign press at the Jerusalem Press Club before she was forced to cancel it.
Agriculture Minister Ariel, a leader of the religious-nationalist Jewish Home Party, wants to build 3d Temple on the site Muslims call Haram al-Sharif of the Holy Sanctuary. The Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque, Islam's 3d holiest site stand on the site; it is also the holiest place in Judaism, where there were once two ancient Jewish Temples, which Palestinian leaders insist – falsely – never existed.
"We need to build a real Temple on the Temple Mount," Ariel has said.
Netanyahu ordered police to block cabinet ministers and non-Muslim Knesset members from entering the Temple Mount. A Christian Arab Knesset member Basel Ghattas made a visit this week to express defiance of Netanyahu's order.
The extremist Jewish Home party is a key coalition partner and Netanyahu is not about to risk driving them from his coalition, but as the head of Likud he has the power to replace Hotovely with a responsible adult.
What she said this week is no different from what she's been saying since he appointed her. The only change is the current violence and focus on the status of the Temple Mount.
You have to ask yourself why Bibi keeps these bomb throwers in his cabinet. A strong leader would have fired the inciters long ago.