A furor erupted in Jerusalem last week. It concerns the construction of a new walkway to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, intended to replace an earlier bridge that had collapsed. The only one that permits entry to the Mount for non-Muslims, via the Mughrabi Gate, the bridge is located near the Western Wall, and completely within Israeli jurisdiction. The work was being done under the umbrella of the Israeli Antiquities Authority and had been cleared by a municipal planning commission in Jerusalem.
Islamic critics claimed that this work being done outside of the walls of the Temple Mount was an imminent threat to the al-Aksa Mosque on the Mount. Although the charge was baseless, Muslim organizations called for massive protests and there were also threats of violence. Even Jordan’s King Abdullah got into the act.
Now, Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski has announced that while the work on the new bridge to the Temple Mount would continue, the process would move more slowly to permit a more transparent process. Plans for the construction will be made fully public. What is more, there will be an opportunity for people to register objections.
At present, work (called a salvage dig) being done on the site is preparatory only – exploratory excavation to ensure that there would be no archeological damage in the course of construction; this will progress according to schedule. It had been expected that when preparation was completed, in about six months, the actual construction would begin. With Lupolianski's announcement, it is likely that the construction will be delayed because of the new procedures for registering protests.
But the mayor is not caving to Arab threats with this new plan, which has a two-fold intention. It is, first, to make it possible for all to see that the Temple Mount is not involved in the planning, and that there is not even a remote possibility of damaging the Al Aksa Mosque. On February 11, Israel Security Minister Avi Dichter made the statement that some of the Arabs who are objecting actually have no idea what is going on, while Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab, writing an opinion piece in The Jerusalem Post, said that Muslims believe "there is something much more sinister going on behind the construction work."
Making the plans public is intended to assuage such concerns. In addition, Israeli leaders hope that providing a process for registering objections will defuse the possibility of violence. But it very well may be that Lupolianski's approach is too rational and reasonable for what Israel is confronting. For it makes the assumption that once Arabs see that there is no danger to their holy sites, they will stop objecting. While the average Arab on the street may be confused about the matter and responding to what he has been told, it is difficult to believe that the Islamic leaders are also confused. It equally unlikely that Jordan's King Abdullah is in the dark about Israel's intentions. In fact, according to Israeli commentator Caroline Glick, Israel's Antiquities Authority coordinated its salvage dig with the Islamic Wakf (trust) and the Jordanian government.
This situation is reminiscent of Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount in 2000, which was used as a pretext for starting the Al Aksa Intifada. Israeli authorities had coordinated this with Palestinian Authority strongman Jabril Rajoub, who headed West Bank Security. So long as Sharon didn't enter a mosque, he said, there would be no problem. Instead, Palestinians launched a campaign of terror against Israel.
On this issue, as so many others in the past, Israelis and Arabs are on different pages. Yet we Israelis, largely blind to their perspective, continue to expect Arabs to function according to our terms, which are intended to be reasonable and conciliatory. Reportedly, Lupolianski made his decision after consulting with local Muslim leaders, so perhaps he's on to something. But what is apparent now is that the head of the Islamic Movement, Kamal Khattib, has already declared that what the mayor proposes is insufficient, and that only a complete cessation of the project will do. Clearly, he doesn't really care what the plans say. He will oppose them regardless of the facts.
From a legal perspective, Khattib doesn’t have a leg to stand on. But his concern is to find ways to intimidate and de-legitimize Israel. In the same way, Daoud Kuttab, the Palestinian journalist, rejects the idea that the Israeli dig is “nothing more than a municipal action,” positing that Israel must have a more sinister agenda. Thus, he writes of Israel's insistence on annexing east Jerusalem, and cutting off its Arab population from outlying areas with the security fence. He advises us that the "calls for help from [east Jerusalem's] Muslim community have now been heard by Palestinian Muslims who are citizens of the State of Israel." And he warns that “the Islamic movement in Israel is all over the city in a strong and powerful way.”
Which “calls for help” is Kuttab suggesting have gone out from the Arabs of east Jerusalem? Almost certainly, it has nothing to do with stopping the construction of a walkway. The outrage over the walkway is only the latest front in the ongoing war against Israel. For Palestinian Arabs, nothing will truly suffice except total Israeli surrender.
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