The images coming from Morocco are quite touching: King Mohammad VI and Pope Francis walking side by side, calling for religious co-existence and peace. While it is important to challenge the narrative spouted by Islamic extremists by showing such solidarity between the faiths, the two leaders lost the plot when they began to speak about Jerusalem.
Both King and Pope expressed their concern for the holy city, and they called on it to remain free and open to all religions. The issue with this narrative is that it ignores the simple reality of Jerusalem: The city is already open and accessible to all religions and faiths. Since Israel regained control of the city in 1967, Jews, Christians and Muslims have had free access to the city. Muslims can visit the Wailing Wall, Jews can visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Israeli control of the city has created an environment for a divine peace, where all faiths can worship freely. The only time when such religious harmony is infringed upon is when Palestinian violence flares up, or when Arab leaders promote violence and intransigence in Jerusalem.
When Muslims controlled Jerusalem, religious diversity and pluralism was stamped out. Ancient synagogues were destroyed, timeless cemeteries were desecrated, and Jews were denied access to our most holy sites. Since liberating and unifying the city in 1967, Israel has endeavored to keep the city open to all faiths. In a move to appease any resentment from the Arabs, Israeli leaders gave over control of the Temple Mount to the Islamic Waqf. What was the result of this move? Jews are not allowed to pray on the site of the holy temple, constant construction projects on the site obliterate Jewish history and artifacts and Islamic religious leaders constantly deny any Jewish links to the city. The people who need to heed the message from King Mohammad VI and Pope Francis are the Arabs, not the Israelis. But these two leaders would never call a spade a spade, and instead make veiled commentary direct against Israel. And this is why the Middle East is in a perpetual stalemate.
The issue of Jerusalem is a thorny one, and it will likely vex the peace makers of the future to no end. But the reality on the ground cannot be denied. Israeli leaders do not deny Muslim linkages to the city. No Israeli ignores the existence of the Dome of the Rock or the Al Aqsa Mosque. But Arab leaders, extremists and moderates alike, refuse to acknowledge Jewish linkages to the city. Time and again, leaders across the Arab world praise the Muslim and Christians history in the city, yet they never mention Jews. These leaders seem to forget that King David, King Solomon and Jesus, all Jews and all respected by Islam, lived and wandered the streets of Jerusalem. Even the Prophet Mohammad acknowledged the Jewish connection to the Holy Land. But the Arab world has moved away from this reality and instead live in a bubble of ignorance. Political disagreements have poisoned their views on history and they now stand and proclaim that Jews have no history in Jerusalem. This blind and venomous hatred is what fuels the conflict, and the leaders of the world need to challenge this if there are any hopes for a lasting peace. King Mohammad VI and Pope Francis should continue to work together to bridge the gap between the religions, but they should focus their commentary on dismantling Arab denialism and rejections and push them into accepting the fact that Jews have just as much a right to exist in Jerusalem as Muslims do.