JERUSALEM – Meeting with an Islamist leader here, the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator last weekend discussed ways to solidify Islamic control over the Temple Mount and block Jews from purchasing real estate in areas surrounding the holy site, according to a source involved in the talks.
The Palestinian Maan news agency quoted chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Kurei as saying there can be no agreement with Israel unless it forfeits Jerusalem, and that postponing an agreement on the issue will only provide the Jewish state more time to “Judaize” the city.
“The Palestinian Authority will not negotiate and will not sign on any agreement with Israel that does not include Jerusalem,” Kurei reportedly said during a meeting with Sheik Raed Salah, chief of the Islamic Movement in Israel whose organization seeks for Islam to take over the Temple Mount.
“The Palestinian leadership is decisive [in its stance] not to negotiate and conclude matters with the Israelis without Jerusalem,” Kurei said. “The postponement of the discussion of this issue is aimed at continuing the Israeli plans to Judaize the holy city, especially the Al-Aksa mosque.”
A source involved in the talks told The Jewish Press that Kurei and Salah also discussed ways to solidify PA control over the Mount and to purchase strategic real estate surrounding the holy site.
The sources said Kurei and Salah also discussed ways for the PA to compete with Jordan for more control over the Temple Mount.
Jordan continues to maintain a major influence over the Temple Mount. Sheik Azzam Khateeb, who was installed in February 2007 as the new manager of the Wakf, is known to be close to the Jordanian monarchy. The previous Wakf manager, Sheik Adnon Husseini, was loyal to the Palestinian Authority although toward the end of his reign, he seemed to be warming to Jordan.
In a gesture to Jordan, in January 2006, Israel granted Jordan permission to replace the main podium in the Al Aksa Mosque from which Islamic preachers deliver their sermons. The podium, which was partially funded by Saudi Arabia, is considered one of the most important stands in the Muslim world. Muslims now believe it marks the “exact spot” Muhammad went up to heaven to receive revelations from Allah.
The new stand bears the emblem of the Jordanian kingdom. It replaced a 1,000-year-old podium believed to have been shipped to Jerusalem by the Islamic conqueror Saladin.
That stand was destroyed in 1969, when an Australian tourist set fire to the Al Aksa Mosque.
In recent years, Jordan quietly has been purchasing real estate surrounding the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in hopes of gaining more control over the area accessing the holy site, according to Palestinian and Israeli officials.
The officials disclosed that the Jordanian kingdom in 2006 and 2007 used shell companies to purchase several apartments and shops located at key peripheral sections of the Temple Mount. The shell companies at times presented themselves as acting on behalf of the Wakf custodians of the Temple Mount, according to information obtained.
The officials said Jordan also set up a commission to use the shell companies to petition mostly Arab landowners adjacent to eastern sections of the Temple Mount to sell their properties. They said profits from sales at any purchased shops would be reinvested to buy more real estate near the Mount and in eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods.
The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism. The First Jewish Temple was built there by King Solomon in the 10th century B.C.E. It was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E. The Second Temple was rebuilt in 515 B.C.E. after Jerusalem was freed from Babylonian captivity. That temple was destroyed by the Roman Empire in 70 C.E. Each temple stood for a period of about four centuries.
The Jewish Temple was the center of religious Jewish worship. It housed the Holy of Holies, which contained the Ark of the Covenant and was said to be the area upon which God’s shechina or “presence” dwelt.
All Jewish holidays centered on worship at the Temple. The Jewish Temple served as the primary location for the offering of sacrifices and was the main gathering place for the Jewish people.
The site is believed to be the biblical Mount Moriah, the location where Abraham fulfilled God’s test to see if he would be willing to sacrifice his son Isaac.
The Kotel, or Western Wall, is the one part of the Temple Mount that survived the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans and stands today in Jerusalem.
The Al Aksa Mosque was constructed around 709 C.E. to serve as a shrine near another shrine, the Dome of the Rock, which was built by an Islamic caliph.
About 100 years ago, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem became associated with the place Muslims to believe Muhammad ascended to heaven. Jerusalem, however, is not mentioned in the Koran.
Islamic tradition states Muhammad took a journey in a single night from “a sacred mosque” – believed to be in Mecca in southern Saudi Arabia – to “the farthest mosque,” and from a rock there ascended to heaven to receive revelations from Allah that became part of the Koran.
Palestinians today claim exclusivity over the Temple Mount, and Palestinian leaders routinely deny Jewish historical connection to the site, but historically, Muslims did not claim the Al Aksa Mosque as their third holiest site and admitted the Jewish Temples existed.
As late as the 14th century, Islamic scholar Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyya, whose writings influenced the Wahhabi movement in Arabia, ruled that sacred Islamic sites are to be found only in the Arabian Peninsula, and that “in Jerusalem, there is not a place one calls sacred, and the same holds true for the tombs of Hebron.”
It wasn’t until the late 19th century – incidentally when Jews started immigrating to Palestine – that some Muslim scholars began claiming Muhammad tied his horse to the Western Wall and associated Muhammad’s purported night journey with the Temple Mount.
A guide to the Temple Mount by the Supreme Muslim Council in Jerusalem published in 1925 listed the Mount as the site of Solomon’s Temple. The Temple Institute acquired a copy of the official 1925 Guide Book to Al-Haram Al-Sharif, which states on page 4, “Its identity with the site of Solomon’s Temple is beyond dispute.
“This, too, is the spot, according to universal belief, on which ‘David built there an altar unto the Lord.’ “