by Ricki Hollander
One of the main obstacles in previous peace-making efforts has been the issue of dividing Jerusalem and control over the Temple Mount. Muslim denial of Judaism's historical and religious ties to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the Waqf's illegal construction there, and the violent response to Jewish activities there present an obstacle to peace-making efforts.
Both Israel and the Palestinians lay claim to Jerusalem and its holy sites. Israel maintains security and legal control over the Temple Mount while the Muslim Waqf has religious, economic, administrative, and some security control there. Past negotiations have faltered on Palestinian denial of any Jewish religious or historical connection and rights to the Temple Mount. During the July 2000 negotiations at Camp David, Yasir Arafat refused to acknowledge Jewish ties to the Temple Mount, claiming the Jewish Temple never existed there. When talks resumed in Taba later that year, the Israelis agreed to full Palestinian sovereignty on the Temple Mount, but requested Palestinians acknowledge the sacredness of the Temple Mount to Judaism. They refused. According to then-foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami:
What particularly outraged me on that occasion wasn't only the fact that they refused, but the way in which they refused: out of a kind of total contempt, an attitude of dismissiveness and arrogance. At that moment I grasped they are really not Sadat. That they were not willing to move toward our position even at the emotional and symbolic level. At the deepest level, they are not ready to recognize that we have any kind of title here. [Interview with Ari Shavit, Haaretz, Nov. 25, 2001]
It is therefore useful to look back at the history of the conflict. Throughout history, Jerusalem’s stature as a Muslim holy city typically diminished during periods when it was securely under Muslim control. As Dr. Daniel Pipes has chronicled in an overview of the topic, "the stature of the city, and the emotions surrounding it, inevitably rise for Muslims when Jerusalem has political significance. Conversely, when the utility of Jerusalem expires, so does its status and the passions about it." (See "The Muslim Claim to Jerusalem," Middle East Quarterly, September 2001)
Since 1967, there has been a growing attempt by Palestinians to marshal the religious fervor of the Arab and Muslim world in order to wrest Jerusalem from Israeli control. As historian Dr. Yitzhak Reiter documented in a 2005 study entitled "From Jerusalem to Mecca and Back: The Islamic Consolidation of Jerusalem," their campaign involves denying the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount while advancing Jerusalem and particularly the al-Aqsa compound’s sacredness in contemporary Islam. It also involves reinventing history to create an Arab connection to Jerusalem predating the Jewish one.
Even now, there are mounting accusations that the Muslim Waqf is deliberately destroying ancient Jewish artifacts and structures from the First Temple period under the guise of renovations on the Temple Mount in order to erase any archeological evidence of Jewish existence there.
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