JERUSALEM – Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told the Egyptian government the Jewish state is willing to forfeit control over the Temple Mount – Judaism’s holiest site – to the management of Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, according to an Arab media report.
The Egyptian Al Massrioun daily reported last weekend Barak informed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and the Jordanian government Israel is willing to hand them joint control over the Temple Mount.
The report follows a WND exclusive article last week stating Palestinian negotiators drafting an agreement behind the scenes with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office made clear they will not accept any final peace deal with Israel unless the Jewish state forfeits the Temple Mount.
According to the Egyptian media report over the weekend, Barak stated an umbrella group of several Arab countries controlling the holy site instead of only the PA would help ease Israeli domestic opposition to giving up the Temple Mount, since Egypt and Jordan are considered by Israeli policy to be moderate countries.
Ronen Moshe, a spokesman for Barak, told WND the Egyptian media report is “untrue.”
“We do not comment on the specifics of private conversations with world leaders, but this report is not what was said during the talks,” Moshe said.
A senior Palestinian official, speaking on condition his name be withheld, told WND yesterday Israel “understands there won’t be any deal with the Palestinians unless it forfeits the Temple Mount.”
The official said the Mount was previously a sticking point in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, but he said Prime Minister Olmert’s government has expressed a number of times a willingness to compromise on the Temple Mount.
“We’ve recently received many Israeli plans that showed Israel is willing to allow another body, whether Palestinian or international, to control the [Temple Mount]. The issue is no longer a sticking point,” the Palestinian official said.
During U.S.-led negotiations in 2000, Barak, then prime minister, reportedly was willing to forfeit the Temple Mount to international control. Those negotiations fell through after Palestinian President Yasser Arafat rejected an offer of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and eastern sections of Jerusalem.
Adviser Gilad Sher – who represented Barak at initial Israeli-Palestinian planning meetings in 2000 during which President Clinton discussed the Temple Mount – wrote in his book “Beyond Reach” that Clinton’s plan called for the Temple Mount to become complete Palestinian sovereign territory, while the Western Wall below and its complex would fall under Israeli sovereignty.
Barak was said to have initially rejected that plan, but according to participants at the negotiations summit, he was ultimately willing to place the Mount under international sovereignty. Some reports claimed Barak offered the Temple Mount to the Palestinians, but the Israeli politician has denied those claims.
Palestinian state outline ‘coming by November’
A chief Palestinian negotiator told WND aides from Abbas’ Fatah organization have been hammering out the parameters of a final status agreement for presentation in November at a U.S.-backed international summit regarding the Middle East.
Yesterday, newly installed Israeli President Shimon Peres told a Tokyo newspaper he hopes to achieve the outline of a final status deal with the Palestinians before the November conference.
Israeli and Palestinian diplomatic sources said U.S.-brokered biweekly meetings between Olmert and Abbas are being utilized to draft the outline of a permanent status deal, ultimately yielding a Palestinian state, scheduled to be aired in public at the November summit.
Issues already discussed between Israel and the Palestinians reportedly include the division of parts of Jerusalem and debates regarding permanent borders between Israel and the PA.
The November international conference and talk from the Bush administration the past few weeks has led many here to speculate the U.S. will push in the near future for intense Israeli-Palestinian negotiations leading to a Palestinian state.
With a year and a half left in office, President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have been urging meetings between Abbas and Olmert to establish a framework for momentum leading to a breakthrough at November’s conference.
Asked by WND whether Olmert is willing to forfeit the Temple Mount in an agreement with the Palestinians, David Baker, a spokesman for the prime minister, had no comment.
Jews, Christians barred from praying on Mount
The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism. Muslims say it is their third holiest site.
The First Jewish Temple was built by King Solomon in the 10th century B.C. It was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. The Second Temple was rebuilt in 515 B.C. after Jerusalem was freed from Babylonian captivity. That temple was destroyed by the Roman Empire in A.D. 70. 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 “presence” dwelt. The Al Aqsa Mosque now sits on the site.
The Temple served as the primary location for the offering of sacrifices and was the main gathering place in Israel during Jewish holidays.
The Temple Mount compound has remained a focal point for Jewish services over the millennia. Prayers for a return to Jerusalem have been uttered by Jews since the Second Temple was destroyed, according to Jewish tradition. Jews worldwide pray facing toward the Western Wall, a portion of an outer courtyard of the Temple left intact.
The Al Aqsa Mosque was constructed around A.D. 709 to serve as a shrine near another shrine, the Dome of the Rock, which was built by an Islamic caliph. Al Aqsa was meant to mark where Muslims came to believe Muhammad, the founder of Islam, ascended to heaven.
Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Quran. 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. The farthest mosque later became associated with the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
Currently under Israeli control, Jews and Christians are barred from praying on the Mount.
The Temple Mount was opened to the general public until September 2000, when the Palestinians started their intifada by throwing stones at Jewish worshipers after then-candidate for prime minister Ariel Sharon visited the area.
Following the onset of violence, the new Sharon government closed the Mount to non-Muslims, using checkpoints to control all pedestrian traffic for fear of further clashes with the Palestinians.
The Temple Mount was reopened to non-Muslims in August 2003. It still is open but only Sundays through Thursdays, 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., and not on any Christian, Jewish or Muslim holidays or other days considered “sensitive” by the Waqf.
During “open” days, Jews and Christian are allowed to ascend the Mount, usually through organized tours and only if they conform first to a strict set of guidelines, which includes demands that they not pray or bring any “holy objects” to the site. Visitors are banned from entering any of the mosques without direct Waqf permission. Rules are enforced by Waqf agents, who watch tours closely and alert nearby Israeli police to any breaking of their guidelines.
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