Knesset member Amit Haveli says the central and northern areas of the Al Aqsa compound, including the revered Dome of the Rock, should be under Israeli control.
An Israeli parliamentarian and member of the Likud Party – an ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – has stirred anger in the Muslim world with a controversial proposal to split the Al Aqsa compound in occupied East Jerusalem between worshippers of Islam and Judaism.
Under the proposal of Knesset member Amit Haveli, the southern Al Aqsa Mosque and its annexes will go to the Muslim worshippers, while the Jews will have control of the central and northern area, including the famed Dome of the Rock, also known as Qubbat al-Ṣakhra.
According to news reports, Halevi wants Jordan to be stripped of its role as the custodian of Islam’s third holiest site — a bid that could unravel decades of uneasy peace in the Middle East. Halevi said it is a “sin to history” to give a foreign nation the custodian status instead of Israel.
Halevi also wants Jews visiting the Al Aqsa compound to be allowed access to all the gates like Muslims, instead of just the southwestern Mughrabi Gate.
While less known than other jingoistic members among Netanyahu’s allies, Halevi has been trying to elevate his status by taking action and announcing plans that appeal to the country’s right-wing crowd. Last month, he joined thousands of right-wing nationalists who staged the annual ‘Flag March’ celebrating Israel’s capture of the holy city in 1967.
While it is unclear if the government could adopt Halevi’s proposal, it has already served part of its purpose of provoking controversy among Palestinians and Muslims.
He claimed that since The Dome of the Rock stands on the site of the older First and Second Holy Temples, then it should belong to the Jews.
“This is most of the area of the mountain, which is first in its sanctity for the Jewish people,” he said.
Halevi said that Muslim worshippers can continue to pray at Al Aqsa in the southern part of the compound.
“If they pray there, it does not make the entire Temple Mount a holy place for Muslims. It wasn’t, and it won’t be,” he contended.
“We will take the northern end and pray there. The entire mountain is sacred to us, and the Dome of the Rock is where the Temple stood. This should be our guideline. Israel is leading. It will be a historical, religious and national statement.”
The argument, however, has naturally not gone down well in the Muslim world, including among Palestinians.
Online, Muslims are calling for resistance against Halevi’s plan. A Twitter user wrote, “Another unilateral, arbitrary plan outside international law.”
Muslims call the Temple Mount the “Haram al-Sharif” or Al Aqsa compound. They believe the entire compound is sacred to Islam, including the Al Aqsa mosque and The Dome of the Rock, built during the Umayyad caliphate of Abd al Malik.
Palestinians also accuse Israel of systematically working to “Judaise” East Jerusalem, where Al Aqsa is located, and obliterate its Arab and Islamic identity.
Storming of Al Aqsa
Al Aqsa compound has been the site of repeated violent attacks by Israeli forces and settlers throughout the years. And those incidents have only escalated in recent months.
In April, more than 1,500 illegal Israeli settlers forced their way into the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem during the Jewish holiday of Passover. During the incident, Muslim worshippers accused Israeli authorities of forcing them from the courtyards of the Al Aqsa compound.
Also last April, footage emerged from Al Aqsa of Israeli security forces mercilessly beating Palestinian worshippers.
Historically, Jordan has been the custodian of Muslim holy sites in East Jerusalem. In 1994, it signed a peace treaty with Israel, which also stipulates its role in securing the Al Aqsa compound.
If Halevi has his way, however, that status should also change. And Netanyahu is unlikely to put much resistance.
Article 9 of the deal states that Israeli must commit to “respect the present special role” of the Kingdom over “Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem” and that “when negotiations on the permanent status will take place, Israel will give high priority to the historic Jordanian role in these shrines.”
An agreement in 2013 also declares the Palestinian Authority’s recognition of Jordan’s role in Jerusalem’s Muslim and Christian holy sites.
In reality, critics said Netanyahu’s government has not been upholding the status quo in practice. In a bid to keep his slim majority, the Israeli prime minister has also continued to align himself with far-right and ultra-religious forces who are openly calling for the stripping of Jordanian guardianship of the holy sites, which they call a “historic mistake”.
“This is a terrible mistake. This status should be abolished. I know it’s an agreement between countries, but we have to deal with it. It requires change even if the process will take time,” Halevi was quoted as saying of his proposal to end Jordan’s guardianship.
With Muslims in the occupied territories facing growing atrocities by the ultra-right Israeli government led by Netanyahu, the new proposal will only encourage the Jewish radicals to step up attacks.