US “peace plan” would allow Jews to pray on the mosque plaza

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► What does the American “peace plan” say about access to the holy places in Jerusalem?

“The approach of this plan is to keep Jerusalem united, to make it accessible to all and to recognize its holiness in a manner that is respectful to all. “ Thus begins the section devoted to Jerusalem in the “peace plan” proposed Tuesday January 28 by Donald Trump, which provides in particular for the recognition of Jerusalem as “Sovereign and undivided capital” Israel.

In a less commented paragraph, the document also addresses the delicate issue of the status of holy places. After recalling the historic and traditional role of the city for each of the three major monotheistic religions, the document “Congratulate” the State of Israel for ” the backup “ religious sites ” of all “ since the occupation of 1967 and “Maintaining the religious status quo”.

“Given this laudable record for more than half a century”, peace plan proposes continuation of the status quo (“All the holy places in Jerusalem should be subject to the same governance regimes that exist today”) with a major change all the same: “People of all faiths should be allowed to pray on the Temple Mount / Haram Al-Sharif in a manner that is fully respectful of their religion, taking into account the prayer times and holidays of each religion, as well as other religious factors. “

► What are the current rules?

Located in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem, the Temple Mount is, for the Jews, the esplanade on which stood the Temple of Solomon, built in the 10the century BC. The most important vestige is the Western Wall (or Wailing Wall) which supported the esplanade where the building was located. Today owned by the State of Israel, it is a place of prayer for Jews around the world.

Now, for Muslims, the Temple Mount is the esplanade of the Mosques where the Dome of the Rock rises, a building built on the site where, according to tradition, Abraham offered a son in sacrifice (Isaac according to the Jews, Ishmael according to Islam) and from where the prophet Mohammed rose to heaven. South of the esplanade, managed by a Muslim foundation (Waqf) controlled by Jordan, there is also the Al-Aqsa Mosque, built in the 7the century, after the Arab conquest.

Since the Israeli takeover of the old city during the Six Day War in June 1967, the plaza has remained in Jordan’s hands. A status quo only allows Muslims to come and pray there. Like visitors of any faith, Jews can access the site but not pray. This prohibition was reinforced by a decision of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel recalling that, on this esplanade, was the Holy of Holies of the Temple, seat of the earthly presence of God, which only the high priest could enter. But for the past few years, extremist Jews have claimed to be able to do so.

► What possible consequences?

The provision of the “peace plan” allowing any believer to pray on the esplanade of the mosques has “Aroused little reaction, including in Israel, perhaps because everyone understands here that, if it were applied, we would go towards a very very complicated situation”said Denis Charbit, professor of political science at the Open University of Israel.

“For thirty years, the opinion of the Chief Rabbinate has suppressed the religious irredentism of those who wish to assert their sovereignty over this place”, notes this specialist. “But his position leaves the door open to competing interpretations. However, since the end of the 1980s, a small nucleus of religious, initially considered as enlightened, began to claim the right to go to pray on the Temple Mount. “

On the religious level, they claim to be able to do so on “A sufficiently peripheral part” of the esplanade so as not to trample on the ancient Holy of Holies. “But the stake is more political than spiritual”, however, believes Denis Charbit. “In their eyes, the objective is above all, in a context of competition with Islam, to show that they do not give up this place which they consider to be the center of Judaism”.

In recent years, their movement has gained momentum and embarked on what the researcher calls “Harassment of the police, justice and politicians”, in particular the Likud of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and religious parties, with as argument “Freedom of worship”. Regularly, groups of religious Jews access the Temple Mount on visiting hours reserved for tourists and try – more or less discreetly – to foil the police surveillance to organize a public prayer, immediately arousing virulent reactions from Muslims.

So far, the Israeli authorities have only accepted exceptions, notably on Jewish holidays, and justify the continuation of the ban on grounds of public order. Ariel Sharon’s visit, surrounded by Israeli police and a few Jewish activists, to the esplanade in 2000 was behind the second intifada.

Through the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the majority Muslim countries – and Jordan in the first place, which sees its role as guardian of the esplanade of mosques confirmed by the “peace plan” – all have it rejected.

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