The Palestinian Authority refuses to accept that Jerusalem's Temple Mount is holy to all three Abrahamic religions
Since Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and the mosques that sit atop it came under Israeli jurisdiction in 1967, the authorities have maintained a rigid status quo there, granting exclusive worshipping rights to Muslims, while allowing adherents of all faiths to visit. Despite this, conspiratorial notions about Israeli designs against the mosques have been gaining traction among Palestinians, triggering spiralling violence.
Known as the Temple Mount to Jews and Christians, and as al-Haram ash-Sharif — the Noble Sanctuary — to Muslims, the religious compound at the heart of Jerusalem’s old city was formerly the site of two Jewish temples, Byzantine and crusader churches, and today the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
From the first Arab revolts in the days of the British Mandate, the claim that Al-Aqsa was under threat was commonly used by leaders such as the Grand Mufti Haj Amin Al-Husseini to incite the Palestinian society to violence. More recently, it was the visit to the Temple Mount by Ariel Sharon in 2000 that was seized upon by Palestinian extremists to justify the wave of suicide bombings that became the Second Intifada.
While Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been hailed internationally as a moderate counterbalance to the Islamist Hamas, Abbas has in fact also repeatedly appealed to hardline Islamic sensibilities, denying the Temple Mount’s significance to other faiths, and encouraging the hallucinatory belief that Al-Aqsa is under threat. In the West we are ever alert to racial supremacism, but when it comes to such religious supremacism we have a blind spot.
Throughout the summer tensions in Jerusalem rose as Islamist activists became increasingly aggressive in protesting against Jewish visitors to the compound. On several occasions Israeli security forces clashed with Palestinian rioters who took to barricading themselves inside Al-Aqsa.
With the onset of the Jewish religious festivals in September the violence picked up dramatically. Yet, just as tensions reached fever pitch, Abbas — Israel’s supposed peace partner — used this opportunity to fan the flames further. Abbas declared that Jews have “no right to desecrate the mosque with their dirty feet” and told his people that “every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem is pure, every martyr will reach paradise, and every injured person will be rewarded by Allah.”
Yet astonishingly Abbas then stood before the UN and warned the world that Israel is attempting to transform the conflict from a political to a religious one, before repeating the claim that the Israeli government is acting to undermine Al-Aqsa. There is no evidence to suggest Israel has any such policy, but by repeating this allegation, Abbas was ensuring the very transition to the kind of religious conflict he accuses Israel of seeking.
Clearly, Jerusalem’s sacred compound is of overwhelming historical and religious significance to adherents of all three Abrahamic faiths, particularly Judaism and Islam. Yet the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to recognise this fact encapsulates a basic truth about this conflict and why it remains unresolved. Evidently, even Palestinian leaders who are presented as moderates in fact endorse religious supremacist notions about the holy sites that sit at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.