In Al-Monitor on Oct. 29, I quoted two prominent rabbis who advocate transforming the Temple Mount from an arena for stone throwing by Jews and Muslims into a center for world peace and prayer for all people. From conversations with Israeli, Arab and Western sources familiar with the controversy over the prayer arrangements on the Temple Mount, a more complex story emerges than the seemingly simple tug-of-war between Jewish zealots on one hand and Muslim zealots on the other. The protagonists in the story today are the Islamic Movement in Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The Israelis are cast in a supporting role, as the fool on the (Temple) mountain.
The story is not entirely new. About 20 years ago, in September 1996 during the early days of the first Benjamin Netanyahu government, members of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, headed by Raed Salah, then mayor of the Arab-Israeli town of Umm Al-Fahm, took control of the project to turn the area of Solomon’s Stables, a vaulted space under the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount, into an expansive mosque. In “The Wars of the Holy Places,” Shmuel Berkowitz called the effort a blatant and extremely substantive violation of the status quo on the Temple Mount and the biggest change effected there at least since the Crusades. In the past, struggles over the Temple Mount, the Haram al-Sharif to Muslims, had been between Jordan and the PA, but the conflict now also encompasses Jordan and the Islamic Movement at the very heart of the State of Israel.