Ra’am chief Abbas warns allowing Jewish prayer on Temple Mount ‘will lead to war’

Islamist party leader says he is ‘worried’ by apparent new government, which is set to include members of the far right

Ra'am leader Mansour Abbas at the Islamist party's campaign headquarters in the northern Arab Israeli town of Tamra, after exit polls were announced, November 1, 2022. (Flash90)
Ra'am leader Mansour Abbas at the Islamist party's campaign headquarters in the northern Arab Israeli town of Tamra, after exit polls were announced, November 1, 2022. (Flash90)

Any move by the incoming government to allow Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount “will lead to war,” Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas has said.

Abbas told Channel 12 on Thursday that he was “worried” about the apparent new government, which is expected to be the most religious in Israel’s history and include members of the far right.

With members of Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit often speaking of seeking greater Jewish clout in Jerusalem and taking actions Arabs view as provocative in the Old City, Abbas said allowing Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount — as desired by some on the religious right, notably including Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir, a likely minister in the new coalition — “will lead to war.”

“Let’s not be naive,” said Abbas, whose Islamist party was a core component of the outgoing coalition. “When you’re talking about the most sensitive subject which is the holy sites… people’s minds stop working and religious feelings take over. We’ve seen how many rounds of escalation were sparked by provocations at Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

Israel has for decades agreed to maintain the status quo on the Temple Mount, whereby Jews are allowed to visit under police guard but not pray. For years Jewish visits were limited, but recent years have seen numbers balloon and authorities have quietly started allowing Jewish prayers.

Muslims have voiced growing alarm and anger at what they perceive as an Israeli attempt to increasingly control the site, which saw a record number of Jewish visitors during the recent High Holidays.

Jews visit the Temple Mount on Erev Rosh Hashanah, September 25, 2022. (AP Photo/ Maya Alleruzzo)

The presence of Jewish visitors on the Temple Mount is opposed by Palestinians and Hamas warned of violent “repercussions” over visits during the Jewish holidays, when some minor scuffles were recorded at the compound.

MK Ben Gvir, who heads the extremist Otzma Yehudit faction and emerged as the star of this week’s election, has often visited the Temple Mount while demanding Israel fully realize its sovereignty there. During the recent holiday period, Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman took to blowing the shofar at a Muslim cemetery near Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, an action heavily criticized by police for its combustive potential but allowed by courts.

Speaking Monday, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu — who is set to form the next government — said he would “maintain the status quo” at the Temple Mount despite pressure from Ben Gvir. The Otzma Yehudit leader is seeking to be public security minister, which would make him responsible for keeping the peace at the Jerusalem holy site.

The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism and is revered as the location of both ancient Jewish temples. The compound is Islam’s third holiest site and is managed by Jordan — whom Israel captured the Old City and the rest of East Jerusalem from in the 1967 Six Day War — as part of a delicate arrangement with the Jewish state.

Knesset member Itamar Ben Gvir visits the Temple Mount compound escorted by police officers on March 31, 2022 (Facebook screenshot; used under clause 27a of the copyright law)

In the television interview, Abbas also touted the work of the outgoing coalition.

“We diagnosed the problems of the Arab public and that’s why we wanted to advance, and did advance, a process of civil cooperation. This was meant to bring Jews and Arabs closer and give hope for the future,” he said.

“We wanted to be partners in finding solutions [for Arabs] in the Negev and mixed cities.”

Ra’am made history last year when it became the first Arab party in decades to join an Israeli coalition under then-prime minister Naftali Bennett, shunning the rejectionism of the other Arab factions.

Despite Likud’s public protests, Abbas says Netanyahu courted him for his own unsuccessful coalition-building efforts last year. In the past, Abbas has not ruled out sitting with the opposition leader in a government but has recently changed his tone.

Netanyahu’s far-right backers would be unlikely to accept sharing a coalition with Ra’am, a socially conservative Islamist faction, in any case, making the prospects of such an alliance near nil.

Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich thwarted any such partnership after the 2021 elections, depriving Netanyahu of a potential coalition. After the November 1 elections, Likud, Religious Zionism (which includes Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit) and the two ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism), have 64 of the 120 Knesset seats between them — a decisive majority — with no imperative for additional partners.

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