The far-right Otzma Yehudit party reportedly demanded that the next Israeli government allow Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount during coalition negotiations, but prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party rejected the notion out of hand.
According to a Wednesday Haaretz report, the demand was made in one of the early rounds of talks last month by Otzma Yehudit’s leading negotiator, Chanamel Dorfman, a close confidant of party chairman Itamar Ben Gvir who helped establish an organization that bankrolls Jewish terrorists.
Dorfman and Ben Gvir have long called for changing the so-called status quo at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif under which Muslims can pray and visit freely while Jews can only visit during shorter, designated time slots and are barred from praying.
The latter part of the unwritten policy has seen a slow erosion in recent years, as Jews have regularly been filmed quietly praying at the flashpoint site, sparking the ire of Jordan and Israel’s other Arab neighbors who have also condemned police operations there, which Israel insists are necessary security measures.
US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides said last week that the Biden administration expects Israel to maintain the status quo at the holy site, which has been at the center of several previous rounds of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
Haaretz quoted sources familiar with the coalition negotiations who said that when Dorfman raised the issue, he framed it as “shaping” the status quo, rather than “changing it,” insisting that freedom of worship should be allowed at the Temple Mount. Palestinians have long rejected the idea, viewing the compound as one of the few sites where they have a degree of autonomy and frequently claim the site is “under attack” by Israel — a charge Jerusalem flatly denies.
Likud negotiators ignored Dorfman’s proposal though and the issue did not come up in subsequent discussions, Haaretz said. “The status quo on the Temple Mount will be maintained,” a Likud source told the paper.
Dorfman, who has reportedly been the target of Shin Bet and police investigations due to alleged involvement in illicit activity targeting Palestinians in the West Bank, is expected to be appointed Ben Gvir’s chief of staff.
Dorfman helped establish an organization that donates money to incarcerated Jewish terrorists and extremists, including former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin Yigal Amir.
Netanyahu is said to be furious with him after Dorfman told the prime minister-designate during a recent meeting that he didn’t “need any favors” from the Likud leader. Dorfman later apologized, according to Hebrew media.