A top Palestinian official said Saturday that the Palestinians recognize the Western Wall as a Jewish holy site that must remain under Jewish sovereignty.
The comments from Fatah Central Committee member Jibril Rajoub constitute a departure from the formal Palestinian position that brands all of Jerusalem’s Old City as occupied territory which must become part of a Palestinian state, and run counter to the Palestinians’ long-running campaign to deny a Jewish historical connection to Jerusalem.
Speaking to Israel’s Channel 2 TV, Rajoub, who is also head of the Palestinian Football Association, was praising US President Donald Trump’s efforts to reach a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians and commenting on his visit last month to Israel and the West Bank.
“He went to the Western Wall, which we understand is a holy place to the Jews. In the end, it must remain under Jewish sovereignty. We have no argument about that. This is a Jewish holy place,” said Rajoub, who is sometimes touted as a successor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Rajoub’s remarks differ sharply from Abbas’s comments after Trump visited the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City less than two weeks ago.
At a joint press conference with Trump in Bethlehem, Abbas referred to “your historic visit to holy sites in occupied East Jerusalem.”
At the same time, Rajoub insisted that the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, which today houses the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, be given to the Palestinians in any future peace deal.
“The Temple Mount is ours, it’s not yours, you need to stop talking about it,” Rajoub said, speaking in Hebrew. “The status quo since 1967, which was set by Moshe Dayan, I think we both need to aim for that,” he said.
The current Israeli government is unlikely to agree to such a division of sovereignty, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently saying that the Temple Mount would remain under Israeli sovereignty for eternity.
Rajoub later seemed to deny he had made the comments, which were aired in full on Israeli television. In a Facebook post on Sunday, Rajoub claimed his remarks were mistranslated, and that he had not used the word “sovereignty.” In fact, however, in the interview, in which he spoke Hebrew, he used the word “ribonut,” which means sovereignty.
Israel captured East Jerusalem — including the Temple Mount — during the June 1967 war.
Then-defense minister Dayan agreed that the day-to-day running of the Temple Mount compound would remain in the hands of Jordanian-run Islamic Waqf (Muslim trust). Under that arrangement, which still holds, Jews can visit the site, but not pray there.
Despite the passage of five decades, the international community does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying the issue must be resolved in peace talks with Palestinians.
In the Saturday interview, Rajoub repeatedly praised Trump and his willingness to reach a deal, saying that the US president is unlike any of his predecessors in his grasp of what it takes to end the conflict. “He’s completely different to the others.”
The US has been pressuring both the Israeli and the Palestinians to make concessions in order to get long-dormant peace talks back on track.
In order not to derail those efforts, Trump backtracked on his election promise to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, signing a waiver earlier this week that delays the move by at least six months.
Announcing the decision, the White House insisted it did not represent a weakening of his support for Israel.
“President Trump made this decision to maximize the chances of successfully negotiating a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, fulfilling his solemn obligation to defend America’s national security interests. But, as he has repeatedly stated his intention to move the embassy, the question is not if that move happens, but only when.”
Rajoub also appealed to the Israeli public, saying this was a historic opportunity and they should not doubt the commitment of the Palestinians and Abbas to reach a peace deal.
Abbas “is the godfather of the Palestinian national movement,” Rajoub said. “He is the only one with the vision and the balls to reach a deal.”
“You have a partner on the Palestinian side for a historic compromise between two peoples… Two states for two peoples,” he said, addressing another key Israeli complaint, that the Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The Palestinian Authority has often said that the Palestinians have recognized Israel, but not as a Jewish state because that would prejudice the rights of Arab Israelis.
He said most Palestinians “certainly” believe in the two-state solution, and charged that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “doesn’t want a partner.”
“We have to do it today, not tomorrow.” Rajoub said. “I say to the Israelis, let’s do business, let’s flip the cassette, let’s pave the way forward… We recognize your right to your state, to build it and live in it in peace and in security, but in the 1967 borders,” he said.