After yesterday’s clashes on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, the holy site has been reopened, calm has been restored, and Muslims are once again able to enter without restriction. No significant tensions have been reported today. Still unresolved is the issue at the core of current tensions: the disposition of the Bab Al-Rahma building. Yesterday’s clashes only underscore the urgency of reaching a resolution to the crisis.
According to accounts published yesterday, the Jerusalem Magistrate Court decided on March 10 to postpone its decision regarding the state's request to order the re-closure of the disputed Bab al-Rahma site. In her decision, the Magistrate Court judge cited media reports that negotiations are taking place between the parties [Israel and Jordan] to reach a compromise and given these developments, she has elected to extend the response period by seven days.
Israel and Jordan have yet to reach an agreement on the framework of a compromise that would allow each side to claim their demands have been met. It is probable that a compromise would include an agreement allowing Bab al-Rahma to remain open for use by the Waqf. Israeli politicians have strenuously opposed the site functioning as a mosque.
Adding further stress to current conditions is the mass rally Temple Movement activists have scheduled for tomorrow, Thursday, March 14 outside of the Mughrabi Gate, to be followed by an ascent to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. In response to what they claim is a "Muslim Invasion" of the Bab al-Rahma, Temple Movement leaders are demanding that the government ban the Waqf from the Holy Esplanade and call for the opening of a synagogue at the Bab al-Rahma site. Attendance of prominent rabbis and right-wing politicians is expected.
Ir Amim anticipates that attendees are likely to seize the opportunity to break the ban on Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount. The response of the Israel Police to any such breach will be decisive – an open question in light of increasing cooperation between Temple Movement activists and security authorities.
While yesterday's clashes on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif can be seen to have posed a genuine security challenge for the Police, it is also true that at key moments throughout the Bab al-Rahma crisis they have taken a hardline approach that appears to reflect the Temple Movements' demands. Last week, an Israeli media source cited a police analysis that included recommendations submitted to the Minister of Internal Security echoing Temple Movement's positions and demands. Adopting the Movements' framing of the crisis, the Police have claimed that the re-opening and use of the Bab al-Rahma site constitutes a breach of the status quo, a completely unfounded claims. As pertains to prayer rights, the status quo only affirms that Muslims have prayer rights on the Temple Mount and Jews are visitors, as restated by Prime Minister Netanyahu himself after the outbreak of violence in 2015. The agreements do not prescribe that prayer is limited to any specific spaces in the compound.
This inaccurate framing by the police suggests a hardline approach insistent on restoration of a presumably breached status quo, which bodes ill for a compromise. Furthermore, the police analysis states that should this "breach of the status quo" continue, it is liable to anger Jewish groups, leading to potentially dangerous protests. Rather than emphasizing the need to diffuse the crisis and avoid widespread violence, the Police appear to recommend a tough stance designed to appease the Temple Movements, risking further escalation.
Further delay – as demonstrated by yesterday’s events – only serves to turn up the heat at the holy site rather than contain it. Moreover, the recent clashes and growing unrest are bound to embolden the Temple Movements, now encouraged by the impression of an increasingly sympathetic media and the prospect of more daring positions being taken by political figures. A successful rally tomorrow could easily tip the balance toward renewed violence on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. It is imperative that all parties take immediate actions to resolve the crisis rather than allowing the delay to further stoke tensions.