Israel and Jordan are discussing opening Temple Mount sites, including the Dome of the Rock, to non-Muslims, after 15 years of restrictions, the Haaretz daily reported Tuesday.
The negotiations between Israel, which handles the security of the holy site, and Jordan, which has influence over the religious management of the site, have been going on for months, the Belgian International Crisis Group said.
Increased tourism — and the revenue from it — would encourage the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, the religious body that formally runs the Temple Mount’s day-to-day operations, to maintain the peace, the NGO said.
Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, which controlled the Waqf until recently, are hoping to stave off violence of the sort that rocked the Temple Mount last year, culminating in a murder attempt against Jewish activist Rabbi Yehudah Glick in October 2014 and the temporary closure of the site to both Muslims and Jews, the International Crisis Group said.
While the esplanade is open to non-Muslim visitors most days of the year, entrance to the Dome of the Rock shrine, the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Islamic Museum has been restricted to Muslims since the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000.
In addition, only Muslims are permitted to pray anywhere on the site.
During the talks, Jordanian officials requested religious Jews, who they fear may pray at the holy site, and soldiers in uniform be denied entrance into the Muslim sites, Haaretz reported.
Israel refused the demand, but agreed to some measure of protection against Jewish incitement.
The Prime Minister’s Office denied the existence of the talks, however. “There are no negotiations and no change in the status quo at the Temple Mount,” a representative told Haaretz.
The NGO explained that another problem facing the negotiations was a changing Israeli political landscape, which has gone further to the right since the March election.
This conservative shift may cause the talks to fall through, the group told Haaretz.
Jerusalem and the West Bank were rocked by a round of violence last fall, as rumors that Israel planned to change the status quo and allow increased Jewish access to the site, as well as Jewish prayer, sparked riots and terror attacks.
The violence only died down after several assurances from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel had no intention of changing the status quo, as well as Jordanian intervention.
Anonymous Israeli officials interviewed by the International Crisis Group explained that in addition to maintaining the peace on the often precarious Temple Mount, resolving the issue with the Jordanians in particular would give the more moderate King Abdullah of Jordan additional clout in the region.
“Instability at al-Aqsa harms internal Jordanian security and King Abdullah’s standing. We managed the Arab Spring with barely any protests of more than 800 participants. But an escalation at al-Aqsa could bring out 80,000,” a Jordanian official said.
Up until the Second Intifada in 2000, the Temple Mount’s sites, including the Dome of the Rock, the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Islamic Museum, were open to paying visitors, regardless of their religion.
The site was closed to all Jewish visitors and tourists until 2003.
The mount reopened, much to the ire of the Waqf and the Palestinian Authority, but entrance to the site’s museum and mosques remained off-limits to non-Muslim visitors until today.