Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Tuesday that he will lift the ban on parliamentarians visiting the Temple Mount, three years after the government forbade them from entering the flashpoint site due to security concerns.
In a letter to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Netanyahu said that lawmakers could visit the Temple Mount once every three months, and this time, as opposed to a pilot held a year ago, ministers could also go to the site.
In October 2015, the government barred MKs from going to Judaism’s most holy spot — the site of the biblical Temples — as part of an attempt to reduce tensions amid a wave of terror attacks against Israelis that was linked to the site, known to Arabs as Haram al-Sharif, which contains the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
After the threats and violence on the site calmed down, Jerusalem police commander Yehoram Halevy recommended to Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich that MKs should be once again permitted to visit the Temple Mount.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel of the Jewish Home party welcomed the decision, but said that it did not go far enough.
“The Temple Mount must be open for Jewish prayer throughout the year, including to public figures,” he said. “The Muslims are not in charge of the Mount and it is forbidden for them to make use of threats and violence that place limits on [Jewish] entry to the Temple Mount. I call on the prime minister to open the Temple Mount to Jewish prayer without limitations for anyone who wants.”
Under a decades-old agreement enforced by Israel, only Muslims are allowed to pray inside the compound, and Jews are only permitted to ascend at certain times, often escorted by the security forces.
Likud’s Yehudah Glick, who, along with Shuli Moalem-Refaeli of the Jewish Home party, visited the compound a year ago, congratulated Netanyahu for removing the ban.
“I congratulate the prime minister for ending the illegal and unreasonable ban on MKs visiting the Temple Mount, and I call on him to make a real change and allow MKs to go to the Temple Mount whenever they want, as is the right of every citizen or tourist.”
Glick stressed that, “the Temple Mount is the place for everyone who wants to get close to the Master of the Universe and is not the place of those who incite or use violence or terrorists.”
The MK has long been an advocate of Jews visiting the Temple Mount. In 2014, a Palestinian terrorist attempted to assassinate Glick because of his Temple Mount activism. The shooter told Glick, right before pulling the trigger, that he was “an enemy of Al-Aqsa.”
Lawmakers from the Joint (Arab) List panned the prime minister’s decision.
“Lawmakers from the Joint List will not come today to the Al-Aqsa Mosque within the framework of the provocation and conditions of Netanyahu and Israeli police,” said MK Ahmad Tibi. “The Arab MKs will go whenever they want and not when Netanyahu wants. That’s how it was in the past and that’s how it will be in the future.”
“Netanyahu will not tell Muslims, MKs, or others, when to go or when to pray,” said MK Hanin Zoabi. “Someone who is not a Muslim has no need to be in that place. Netanyahu wants to create argument to evade the criminal investigations and the threats of breaking up his coalition.”