The Trump administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan appears to include a contradiction regarding the acutely sensitive question of prayer on the Temple Mount.
Located in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City, the Mount is the holiest site in Judaism and the third-holiest for Muslims, who refer to it as the Noble Sanctuary (Haram al-Sharif) or the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
Under the current 52-year-old status quo at the site, Muslims can pray at the site while Jews are allowed to visit — under heavy restrictions, in a predetermined route and only for several hours on weekdays — but not pray there.
The Trump peace plan calls for the status quo at the site to “continue uninterrupted.” And a “Conceptual Map” published in the document specifies that the “status quo over Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif is preserved.”
But the document goes on to say that “people of every faith should be permitted to pray on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, in a manner that is fully respectful to their religion, taking into account the times of each religion’s prayers and holidays, as well as other religious factors.”
An arrangement permitting Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount would likely have profound repercussions in the Muslim world. Israel has always denied intermittent claims by Palestinian and other Muslim critics that it intends to change the status quo and permit Jewish prayer on the Mount.
The Times of Israel made repeated efforts to contact US officials who were part of the team responsible for the plan about this issue on Tuesday, to no avail.
The relevant section (on page 16 of the “Peace to Prosperity” document released Tuesday), reads as follows:
“Unlike many previous powers that had ruled Jerusalem, and had destroyed the holy sites of other faiths, the State of Israel is to be commended for safeguarding the religious sites of all and maintaining a religious status quo. Given this commendable record for more than half a century, as well as the extreme sensitivity regarding some of Jerusalem’s holy sites, we believe that this practice should remain, and that all of Jerusalem’s holy sites should be subject to the same governance regimes that exist today. In particular the status quo at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif should continue uninterrupted.
“Jerusalem’s holy sites should remain open and available for peaceful worshippers and tourists of all faiths. People of every faith should be permitted to pray on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, in a manner that is fully respectful to their religion, taking into account the times of each religion’s prayers and holidays, as well as other religious factors.”
At present, the holiest place where Jews can pray is adjacent to the Western Wall, an ancient retaining wall at the bottom of the esplanade.
The Palestinians, an official in Ramallah said Tuesday, consider the Western Wall to be “part and parcel” of the Haram al-Sharif.
However, while the Jordanian Waqf Muslim trust is in charge of the Temple Mount, it has no control of the Western Wall, which is administered by the Israeli Western Wall Heritage Foundation.
Since Israel captured the Old City in the 1967 war, it has allowed the Waqf to continue to administer the Temple Mount, and restricted Jews to visits there without prayer. This contrasts with arrangements at Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs, revered in Islam as the Ibrahimi Mosque, a site divided into Jewish and Muslim prayer times.