(July 8, 2019 / JCPA)
The dedication ceremony for the “Pilgrimage Road” in eastern Jerusalem on June 30, 2019, with senior representatives of the Trump administration attending, was a pivotal event in the battle to establish Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.
The ancient street is believed to be the path millions of Jews took on their way to bring sacrifices to God during Judaism’s three key holidays, Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot. The road extends from the Siloam Pool to an area adjacent to the Western Wall.
The participation of two senior American representatives at the ceremony—U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Special Mideast Envoy Jason Greenblatt—underscored U.S. President Donald Trump’s continued commitment to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It is now over a year since Trump declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel, and he has not backed down, despite Palestinian protests and the objection of Arab and Islamic countries.
Israeli policy needs to be unambiguous in this area. A firm stand will show the Palestinian Authority and Jordan that Israel does not intend to relinquish its sovereignty over the Temple Mount and eastern Jerusalem.
The ceremony took place just a few short hours after Jerusalem police arrested Fadi al-Hadami, Palestinian Authority Minister for Jerusalem Affairs, on suspicion of carrying out P.A. activity in eastern Jerusalem in breach of the Oslo agreements.
Last week, Hadami accompanied Chilean President Sebastián Piñera on a tour of the Temple Mount; an attempt to present the P.A. as the sovereign of the Temple Mount.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry reprimanded the Chilean ambassador to Israel over the incident, and Piñera apologized to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. He said that his visit to the Temple Mount had been made in a private capacity and that he had not invited the Palestinian representatives, who he said appeared of their own accord.
For Palestinians and Jordanians, the participation of senior U.S. officials in the tunnel dedication ceremony was an exceedingly disturbing event.
Near the Temple Mount Israel continues to carry out archaeological excavations exposing the underground complex near the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. These excavations led to the discovery of the Western Wall Tunnel (north of the present Western Wall plaza), which opened its doors to the public several years ago. Today, it is an important tourist site frequented by Israeli citizens and tourists from all over the world, and serves as a popular prayer site during hot or inclement weather.
Yasser Arafat led a bloody struggle against the opening of the tunnel; the site expresses the deep Jewish heritage of the location and points to Israel’s sovereignty over the Temple Mount.
The P.A. sees the participation of senior U.S. administration officials in the dedication ceremony as an act of “blind support” for all Israeli actions in east Jerusalem. It also views this as an expression of the U.S. government’s policy in favor of Israel.
In an almost desperate step, the P.A. issued a radical statement in response to the event. P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas called for action to be taken against the continued Israeli archaeological excavations in the Temple Mount area. “This [the excavations] will not weaken our dedication to our ideals, most importantly the preservation of Jerusalem,” said Abbas.
He directed the Palestinian Foreign Ministry to work with the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation against Israel’s archaeological excavations. The P.A. claims the excavations are “making an attempt at Judaizing east Jerusalem and are a violation of international law.”
Jordan’s Foreign Ministry also issued a statement condemning all attempts by Israel to “reinvent the identity of the Old City of Jerusalem.”
Jordanian and Palestinian resistance to the archaeological excavations in eastern Jerusalem is not new. These excavations unearth unequivocal evidence of Jewish sovereignty over the Temple Mount and the City of David. Sensitivity to the issue grew after America declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel and relocated its embassy to Jerusalem. The Bahrain conference contributed to the growing tensions, as will the expected publication of Trump’s Mideast peace plan, scheduled to take place after Israel’s new government is established.
These events illustrate how crucial it is to demonstrate Israeli sovereignty in eastern Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount. Israel should feel no apprehension regarding any Jordanian or Palestinian reactions—especially since they so recently organized the land grab at the Gate of Mercy. They used the Muslim Waqf Council to show the United States that Israel does not control the Temple Mount. They made it clear that they will not agree to Israeli sovereignty over the compound.
Adopting an unbending Israeli policy in eastern Jerusalem will show the Palestinians and Jordan that Israel is determined to exercise its sovereignty over this part of the city. Israel will openly maintain Jerusalem’s unity while granting full freedom of worship to members of all religions.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.