Palestinians in Jerusalem achieved the victory they had been longing for on Friday: Muslim worshippers crowding into the Golden Gate area of the Temple Mount, which has been under a closure order since 2003 because of Hamas activity there.
The police, who accepted the reality in order to avoid widespread, violent clashes, did carry out dozens of arrests, but unless something happens to reverse the narrative, the Palestinian gambit comprises another step in their yearslong campaign to chip away at the status quo on the Temple Mount—mostly for the benefit of the Palestinians and to the detriment of the Jews. Two new mosques have been built at Solomon’s Stables and at the site of the ancient Al-Aqsa mosque; restrictions on when and where Jews are allowed to visit the Mount; and almost no enforcement of planning and construction and antiquities laws for years. Now they have focused on the Golden Gate.
The latest calculated move was initiated by the Waqf council in its new, more radical makeup, which now includes Sheikh Ikrama Sabri, a former mufti of Jerusalem and now a Muslim Brotherhood member and an ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the outlawed Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement. Other than Sabri, the new expanded council includes a number of officials from the Fatah movement and the Palestinian Authority.
This is a bad turn of events for Israel. The Jordanians have installed opponents of Israeli hegemony on the Temple Mount on the Waqf council, the Jordanian administrative body that oversees the Temple Mount and its mosques. There is one goal behind this: to make it clear to the United States and Israel that they will not agree to their status on the mount, which is anchored in agreements with Israel, being reduced. What frightened the Jordanians and prompted them to take this unusual step were reports that U.S. President Donald Trump’s peace plan, which also touches on the status of Jerusalem, calls for pan-Islamic management of the Temple Mount in which additional Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, would participate. Saudi Arabia already controls the holiest two places in Islam, the cities of Mecca and Medina.
The target for the Jordanians’ message is the area around the Golden Gate, which has already been the site of conflict. The police put an end to illegal Muslim burials outside the gate, and there were also tussles with the Israel Antiquities Authority about what would happen to the ancient wooden beams near it, some of which date back to the First and Second Temple periods, which were removed from the roof of Al-Aqsa mosque after it was leveled by an earthquake in 1927. These beams had been lying near the Golden Gate for years, vulnerable to the elements.
Jerusalem got the message, but it seems as if it’s too late. The new Waqf council and Hamas are spreading lies about Israel planning to build a synagogue at the Golden Gate. They are determined to annex the area to the Muslim prayer area of the mount, which is constantly being expanded.
The first battle, which took place on Friday, went to them. We can expect another round.
Nadav Shragai is a veteran Israeli journalist.