August 28, 2000 Special - Dispatch No.121 - Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) - 1815 H Street, NW Suite 404 Washington, DC 20006 - [ MEMRI holds copyrights on all translations. Materials may ONLY be cited with proper attribution. Hosted By Secure Hosts: Copyright WEBstationONE, 1998, 1999 All Rights Reserved.]
The Jerusalem issue was at the core of the Camp David Summit negotiations. The Palestinians regard East Jerusalem as a part of the occupied territories falling under UN Security Council Resolution 242, and therefore demand full Israeli withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 lines. For Israel, East Jerusalem is an indivisible part of its territory after being annexed by Israel in 1967.
However, it is the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem that place the question of Jerusalem in the center of the negotiations.
On July 23, the United States submitted a proposal - based on an Israeli proposal - to grant the Palestinians full sovereignty in the Muslim and Christian quarters [including Christian holy sites] while leaving the Jewish and Armenian quarters under Israeli sovereignty.
In response to this proposal, Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Yasser Arafat told US President Clinton, "I will not agree to any Israeli sovereign presence in Jerusalem, neither in the Armenian quarter, nor in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, neither on the Via Dolarosa, nor in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. They can occupy us by force, because we are weaker now, but in two years, ten years, or one hundred years, there will be someone who will liberate Jerusalem [from them]." (1)
PALESTINIANS CLAIM HOLY SITES
Palestinian claims to sovereignty over Temple Mount are based primarily on its holiness in Islam. They stated repeatedly that the Muslim holy places have the status of an Islamic Waqf [religious endowment]. Arafat stated again and again that he represents all Muslims, reminding President Clinton that he serves as the permanent deputy chairman of the 'Islamic Conference' organization, (2) and that: "The Arab leader who would give up Jerusalem has not yet been born." (3)(I)
Regarding himself as the heir to the legacy of the Muslim conqueror of Jerusalem (in 638), Caliph Omar Ibn Al-Khattab who protected Jerusalem's Christians, Arafat also demanded recognition as the defender and custodian of Christian holy sites in Jerusalem. "Arafat told us," said PA negotiator Saib Ereiqat, "that the Christian quarter is more important to him than the Muslim quarter because of his wish to uphold the terms of the 'Omar Pact' [regarding the status of non-Muslim
monotheist religions according to Muslim tradition]." (4)
Israeli Claims and the Palestinian Reactions Israel too presented its demand for sovereignty over the Temple Mount on the basis of its holiness in Judaism, as the site of the first and second temples. On this basis, it raised - for the first time - a
demand for a Jewish prayer site on the edge of the mountain.
(I) The secretary-general of the Arab League, Dr. 'Ismat Abd Al-Maguid, also, stated that "no Arab leader is allowed to relinquish Jerusalem." Saut Al-Haqq Wa Al-Hurriyya, August 18, 2000.
The Palestinians rejected both demands, regarding them as an attempt to foil any chance for an agreement. The Islamic Awqaf [Islamic endowments] Council in Jerusalem explained this position: "The Al-Aqsa Mosque belongs to the Muslims alone, according to a divine decision, and is part of the Muslim faith. Prayer in it by non-Muslims is forbidden by [religious] law. Any attempt to harm its holiness or the site itself, or to desecrate it would injure Muslims all over the world." (5)
(II) The PA Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine, Sheikh 'Ikrima Sabri explained that the buildings surrounding the Al-Aqsa mosque are also holy and therefore establishing a synagogue there would be impossible: "All the buildings surrounding the Al-Aqsa mosque are an Islamic waqf. These buildings have direct openings, doors and windows, to the site of the
Al-Aqsa mosque, and therefore their status is similar to that of Al-Aqsa in terms of blessing and holiness. Therefore, according to Islamic law, it is impossible to plunder any of these buildings and turn it into a synagogue for the Jews." (6)
The Palestinian rejection of Israel's demands to sovereignty and prayer sites on Temple Mount is based on a complete denial of any Jewish affiliation with Temple Mount. According to the Palestinians, the "so-called temple" that Israel recalls, has never been there, and there is no evidence to suggest its existence. This position was voiced by Arafat as well as many high-ranking Palestinians, such as PA Minister of International Planning and Cooperation Nabil Sha'ath (7), Saib Ereiqat,
(III) and PA Legislative Council Chairman Abu 'Alaa. Arafat told Clinton in this regard: "I am a religious man, and I will not allow it to be written of me [in history] that I confirmed the existence of the so-called temple underneath the mountain." (8)
Abu 'Alaa claimed that the Israeli demand is nothing but a plot: once it is accepted that the temple existed beneath the mosques, and Israel gains sovereignty over the land under the mosques - "It will mean that within a few years they will destroy the mosques." (9) This was a reference to the September 1996 Western Wall Tunnel riots, in which the Palestinians claimed that the tunnel was dug with the aim of destabilizing the foundations of the mosques, to ultimately destroy them.
Abu 'Alaa also claimed that "at Camp David the Israelis offered Palestinian sovereignty over the ground and Israeli sovereignty under the ground. Who would agree to this? They offered Palestinian sovereignty, and Israeli super-sovereignty. There is no precedent such a thing. They also offered Palestinian control under Israeli sovereignty, in a sort of diplomatic representation, similar the status of an embassy that has sovereignty in Israeli land. Whoever agrees to such offers betrays faith." (10)
A classified report by the Palestinian leadership on the Camp David summit refers to this Israeli offer: "The Israelis offered to divide the sovereignty so that the Palestinians would have vertical sovereignty from the sky to the ground, and the Israelis would have sovereignty from the surface to the center of the earth. What they intended by this offer was the right to dig for the remains of the so-called temple, which [archeological] digs have failed to find for the last seventy years." (11)
PLO Executive Committee Chairman Abu Mazen too denied the right of the Jews to a prayer site on Temple Mount. He raised a practical argument: the Palestinian experience with Jews in joint Jewish-Muslim prayer sites. He stated: "We have learned the lessons of the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem. The Jews asked to visit them, then it became the basis for [further] demands. In the Hebron mosques, they asked to pray at the site, and today anyone who
visits the Tomb is beaten [by them]. For these reasons, as a matter of principle we will allow neither [Jewish] sovereignty nor prayer in, around, or above the mosques. (12)
(II) Arafat recalled that even Moshe Dayan himself prohibited Jews from praying on the Temple Mount after 1967: " [So] why do they want to do it now? The [Israeli] proposals are like mines that will ignite fires in the region and throughout the world. Beware not to repeat these proposals [because] they are dangerous and destructive." Al-Ayyam. August 6, 2000.
(III) According to the reports, Ereiqat made this denial at a Camp David meeting in the presence of President Clinton, who noted that the Christian Minister at Camp David believes Israel's version. Ha'aretz (Israel), July 27, 2000. ___________________________
Akram Haniya, editor of Al-Ayyam and an Arafat advisor who participated in Camp David, criticized the Israeli demands, and furthermore their acceptance by the US: "The secular [Israeli] negotiators began speaking the language of extremist religious Jews. Suddenly, the Jewish access to the [Muslim] holy sites and Israeli sovereignty over the mountain became a basic Israeli demand. But the dangerous thing about it was that the Americans endorsed these demands without hesitation or any
thought about the implications." (13)
Palestinian claims to the Western Wall The Palestinians state that the Western Wall is also a holy Islamic site and an Islamic Waqf. Its holiness derives, according to The Koran and Muslim tradition, from its being the site where the Prophet Muhammad landed in his divine nocturnal journey from Mecca to Jerusalem. The Western Wall is where he tied his horse called 'Al-Buraq,' and it is known in Islam as 'The Al-Buraq Wall.'
At Camp David, Arafat also based his claim to the site on an "assertion by the British mandatory government in 1929 that the Western Wall is the Wall of Al-Buraq, and that it is regarded as an Islamic Waqf and an historic Islamic right." (14)
The PA mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine, Sheikh 'Ikrima Sabri explained that the Western Wall is part of the Al-Aqsa Wall, and therefore is an Islamic Waqf. On the other hand, he asserted: "no stone of the Al-Buraq Wall has any relation to Judaism. The Jews began praying at this wall only in the nineteenth century, when they began to develop [national] aspirations, as Yossi Beilin has said." (15)
Nevertheless, the Palestinians are ready to acknowledge the right of Jews to pray at the Western Wall out of "respect to Judaism," but only on the condition that the sovereignty over it will be Palestinian. PA Minister for Jerusalem Affairs Feisal Al-Husseiny explained that: "The PA is ready to discuss all the arrangements relating to free access, worship and Jews visiting Jerusalem, on the condition that the sovereignty over the city be fully Palestinian." (16) However, as Abu 'Alaa asserted: "there is no point in discussing the details of these arrangements, before Israel has recognized Palestinian sovereignty over
[East] Jerusalem." (17)
Abu Mazen recognized the fact that "Jerusalem is holy for all [religions]" and explained that even though the Jews would be granted the right to pray at the wall - the wall will remain an Islamic Waqf: "All parties have a right to their religious worship on the mountain. The Jews have the right to visit the Western Wall and pray there, despite the fact that the British Commission asserted in 1929 that the wall is an Islamic Waqf. Arafat has always said that he will allow them to pray at the site." (18)
Arafat expressed this idea in an interview with the Japanese news agency NHK during his last visit to Tokyo. While rejecting Israel's claim to sovereignty on Temple Mount, he added: "However, I offered them [the Jews] freedom of prayer at the Western Wall. They are praying there, and I offered that they would be able to continue with their prayers, because I respect Judaism." Arafat reiterated this statement repeatedly during the interview. In an answer to the interviewer's question about the holiness of the Wall to the Jews too, he said: "I have offered them free access to pray at the Western Wall =85they will have an open corridor to reach the Western Wall." (19)
PA Mufti Sheikh 'Ikrima Sabri, dismissed the concern that the prohibitions that kept Jews from reaching the "Al-Buraq Wall" from 1948 and 1967, may be repeated if a Palestinian State is granted sovereignty over the Western Wall. "Circumstances have changed," he said, "[now] there is international recognition [of the right to religious worship] - and the Jews are able to reach the Wall. Arafat can tell them: 'Give me sovereignty over Jerusalem, and I will make it possible for you to reach the 'Al-Buraq Wall' and pray there. I promise you freedom of worship.' [However] granting free access to the wall does not mean that the Wall will belong to them. The Wall is ours." (20)