Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday vowed that his government would not alter the status quo regarding the Temple Mount, a day after Israel’s Knesset held its first ever debate on extending Jewish sovereignty over Judaism’s holiest site.
“The policy of the government of Israel has been and continues to be the maintenance of the status quo at the Temple Mount, including freedom of access for all faiths to the holy sites,” Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev told The Jerusalem Post.
But, of course, the reason behind Tuesday’s Knesset debate was that currently Jews and Christians (all non-Muslims, in fact) do not enjoy full religious freedom at the Temple Mount.
Often, Jews and Christians are prevented outright from ascending to the holy site when local Muslims are feeling particularly agitated. And at all times, Jews and Christians are forbidden to carry Bibles or even utter silent prayers while atop the Temple Mount. Vigorous security checks are performed to ensure these restrictions are not violated, and many Jews have been arrested for even giving the impression that they might have been praying.
Many Israeli lawmakers are increasingly frustrated by this situation, which they deem to be a total surrender to the dictates and threats of radical Islam. They want Israel to become the official overseer of the Temple Mount, in place of the Jordanian government and the Palestinian-controlled Islamic Trust (Waqf).
The debate was punctuated by several outbursts by Arab Muslim members of Knesset, most notably MK Taleb Abu Arar (Raam-Taal), who insisted that “Jews have nothing to look for at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. It isn’t the Temple Mount, it’s the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Al-Aqsa Mosque belongs to the Muslims and not the Jews, and it is on occupied land.”
Liberal left-wing Jewish parliamentarians also opposed the suggestions of those who called the debate. Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely later told Israel National News that what the secular left is truly afraid of is not enraging the Muslims, but rather coming too close to the spiritual heart of the Jewish people, and therefore to God.
As expected, the debate also sparked angry reactions around the Middle East.
Egypt’s interim government warned that extending Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount would cause an “explosion” in the region. The Palestinian Authority called for an emergency session of the Arab League to discuss this latest “Israeli aggression.” And no fewer than 47 members of Jordan’s parliament demanded their government’s peace treaty with Israel be cancelled in response to the Jews daring to even think about fully reclaiming the Temple Mount.