Over the weekend, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah issued a joint communique in Cairo accusing Israel of taking unilateral steps in Jerusalem that they said were undermining efforts to resume peace negotiations and could have catastrophic consequences for the entire region. As part of an intensifying struggle over Jerusalem, Arab leaders are critical of construction in the city and alleged violations of the status quo on the Temple Mount.
Frictions in recent weeks have stemmed largely from rumours among Palestinians about Israeli plans to allow Jews to pray at the site or to dig under the compound and harm the Muslim buildings there. Israel has carried out numerous archaeological digs in nearby areas. The site has been under Israeli occupation since 1967, but is administered by a Muslim religious body known as the Waqf. The compound is opened for several hours a day to allow tourists and Jews to visit, though only Muslims are allowed to pray there. Israeli police were quick to prevent the Jewish fringe group that wanted to pray on the mount from entering the compound!
But it seems
Jews are indeed building homes in Arab neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to halt their activities. There is tunneling under the Arab neighborhood of Silwan as archeologists search for remains of the biblical City of David, and Jewish construction in the Arab neighborhoods of Sheik Jarrah and Ras al-Amud. National parks and archeological digs around the Old City's holy basin are supported and undertaken by right-wing Jewish organizations with a clear agenda: to make dividing the city impossible, leaving it all under Israeli jurisdiction and thereby rendering Muslim religious control of the Temple Mount politically irrelevant.
In late August, Sheik Taysir Tamimi, a leading Palestinian cleric, claimed that the Jewish temples never existed, that Jerusalem was never a Jewish city, that Al-Aksa was built by angels and that the Western Wall was a tying post for Muhammad's horse, al-Burak!
Israel retorts that Jewish claims about the temples having been located on the mount are universally accepted by scholars and that the historic and archeological evidence is incontrovertible.
The political subtext for much of the Arab discontent is former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reportedly offered the Palestinians a far-reaching deal on Jerusalem -- Arab neighborhoods would become part of Palestine, there would be a special regime for the Temple Mount until final arrangements were worked out and what is today eastern Jerusalem would become the capital of the Palestinian state -- whereas Netanyahu (Current PM) insists on a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty.
The Palestinians seek to make east Jerusalem, including the holy compound, the capital of a future independent state. There are accusations that Israel was tunneling under the Al-Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount compound, and that the Israeli government has a master plan to isolate Arab eastern Jerusalem from the West Bank.
The allegations followed weeks of tension that erupted after a Jewish fringe group announced plans to visit and pray at the Temple Mount and a radical Israeli-Arab cleric charged that Al-Aksa was in danger and called upon Muslims to put their bodies on the line to defend it.
USA Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is in the region trying to start peace talks. Has anyone heard from Mr T Blair?
"Jerusalem must be the capital of two States -- Israel and Palestine -- living side-by-side in peace and security, with arrangements for the holy sites acceptable to all, if peace in the Middle East is to be achieved" said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The riot took place on the holiest site in the Jewish Religion, the location of the temple that for centuries was the centre of Judaism. Though only the wall remains now, its associated with all the Jewish biblical prophets who are also revered in Christianity and Islam. The site is the location and the third holiest site in Islam. It is regarded as the the location Muhammad ascended to heaven and of the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, the oldest extant Islamic structure in the world.