Given the pessimism expressed recently by President Obama and Secretary Kerry regarding the chances of actually reaching an Israel-PLO agreement in the near future, many believe we need not worry about such a deal and its negative ramifications. Nevertheless, it is still vital that we understand the tremendously high stakes under discussion, especially in our holy city of Yerushalayim.
Let us listen to Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, a resident of the Old City of Jerusalem that he himself helped liberate as an IDF paratrooper during the Six-Day War of 1967. Currently the head of the Temple Institute in Jerusalem, Rabbi Ariel warns that under discussion is a “terrible plan” to give away the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (the holiest burial vault in Christianity) to the Catholics and/or other Christians, as well as the Temple Mount to the Muslims. “And we, the Jews, will have to reach the Western Wall under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority,” Rabbi Ariel laments.
Rabbi Ariel did not mention in this interview that which he and others have taught thousands of students for decades: The Western Wall is merely a retaining wall for the Temple Mount, and has no innate sanctity of its own. Its value to the Jewish people is only as a symbol of our lack of access to what lies behind it – namely, the site of the Beit HaMikdash, our holiest national location.
Is there in fact a plan to turn over holy sites? No hard proof such exists in the public arena, but much has been written about President Shimon Peres’s promises to grant the Vatican official status in Jerusalem and control over its holy sites.
Nor has the visit of Pope Francis to Israel this coming May done anything to calm the rumors of Israeli concessions to the Church; quite the opposite. In February 2000, the Vatican and the Palestinian Authority signed an agreement calling for an internationally guaranteed special status for Jerusalem. The agreement stated that a special statute would protect, inter alia, “the proper identity and sacred character of the city.”
Three months later, PLO terrorist chieftain Yasir Arafat met in Ramallah with Islamic and Christian clergymen who backed Palestinian Arab sovereignty over Jerusalem. Among the participants were leaders of the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Roman Catholic churches.
Regarding the Temple Mount, of course, it appears to be universally assumed that the breaking out of peace in the Middle East and the Muslim take-over of the Temple Mount will occur simultaneously.
Rabbi Ariel expressed frustration with the silence of Jewish religious leadership on the dangers. “Where is the Chief Rabbinate?” he asked Arutz-7′s Hebrew-language newsmagazine last week. “They are about to take the heart of Jerusalem [Mt. Zion] and turn it into a Christian center!”
“We well remember the late Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Nissim,” he continued, “who, 50 years ago, during the first papal visit to Israel, refused to meet with the pope when the latter refused to come to Jerusalem. [Today] there is weakness and surrender toward the pope.”
Rabbi Ariel, former chief rabbi of the short-lived Israeli city of Yamit in the Sinai and head of the yeshiva there, continues to speak out on issues of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, despite his ill health.
Jews to Live Under the PA? Meanwhile, attention has been turned toward the possibility that, even if an agreement is reached, Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, and Jerusalem neighborhoods such as Gilo, Maaleh HaZeitim and Shimon HaTzaddik will remain where they are – only under Palestinian sovereignty. Many Israeli leaders responded quickly that such an option would be in diametric opposition to all Jewish and Zionist values. In any event, there seems to be no fear that this scenario would ever be accepted by the Palestinian Authority. Mahmoud Abbas has said countless times that no Jew would be allowed to live in a country under his control.
About the Author: Chaim Silberstein is president of Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech and the Jerusalem Capital Development Fund. He was formerly a senior adviser to Israel's minister of tourism. Hillel Fendel, past senior editor at Israel National News/Arutz-7, is a veteran writer on Jerusalem affairs. Both have lived in Jerusalem and now live in Beit El.
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