Mounting tension: Israel’s Knesset debates proposal to enforce its sovereignty at Al-Aqsa Mosque - a move seen as ‘an extreme provocation to Muslims worldwide’

The plan to allow Jewish prayer at Islam’s third holiest site is threatening to plunge the entire region into great conflict

Jerusalem

The Arab-Israeli conflict took on an increasingly religious hue when the Jordanian parliament voted unanimously to expel Israel’s ambassador in Amman after Israeli legislators held an unprecedented debate on Tuesday evening over a proposal to enforce Israeli sovereignty at one of Jerusalem’s holiest sites, currently administered by Jordan, and to allow Jewish prayer there.

The vote in Jordan’s 150-seat parliament is not binding on the cabinet, which is keen to maintain diplomatic ties with Israel. Still, the step was a measure of the degree to which the perception of an Israeli threat to Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, is ratcheting up tensions in the wider Arab and Muslim worlds, not just among Palestinians.

Al-Aqsa is situated in an area revered as Judaism’s holiest site for housing the temples destroyed in 586BC and AD70 and is in the locale where religious Jews pray a third temple will be built. The Mount, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, has been an exclusively Muslim prayer site for the last 1,300 years, with the exception of the crusader incursions to the Holy Land.

The debate held in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, was on “the loss of Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount” and was initiated by Moshe Feiglin, a Jewish fundamentalist member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, who, along with other far-right members of the Knesset, is dismayed that the government continues to acquiesce in granting a type of autonomy to the Jordanian-backed Palestinian officials who run the shrine and also that police intervene to stop Jews who visit the Mount from praying there and prevent the unfurling of Israeli flags.

Mr Netanyahu received rare praise from some dovish Israelis after he intervened to prevent Mr Feiglin’s motion from coming to a vote. “This is the first time Netanyahu is taking on the pyromaniacs in his own party and he deserves credit,” said Daniel Seidemann, who heads the dovish NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem and is often critical of Mr Netanyahu. According to Israel’s 1994 peace treaty with Jordan, Amman has a “special“ role in Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem.

On Tuesday morning, violence erupted at the Mount in advance of the debate. The police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that about 100 Palestinians, most of them masked, began throwing stones and fireworks at police, lightly wounding two officers. Police then entered the mount to ”disperse the rioters“, he said.

Ziyad Surour, who works at a local clinic, told al-Quds daily newspaper that 22 Palestinians were injured by rubber-coated bullets and sound grenades.

But Mr Rosenfeld denied that rubber-coated bullets had been fired. Three Palestinians were arrested, he said.

Israeli police and border police officers scuffle with a Palestinian who is trying to enter Al-Aqsa (Reuters) Israeli police and border police officers scuffle with a Palestinian who is trying to enter Al-Aqsa (Reuters)
Hanan Ashrawi, the PLO spokeswoman, termed the holding of the Knesset debate an “extreme provocation to Muslims worldwide. Using religion as a pretext to impose sovereignty on historical places of worship threatens to plunge the entire region into great conflict and instability. It is reminiscent of the same regressive ideology that brought the crusades to Palestine in the Middle Ages’.’

Responding to the Jordanian parliament’s move, an Israeli official, who requested anonymity, said: ”There is no change in long-standing Israeli policy. The status quo at the Temple Mount will remain one that ensures free access to people of all faiths to the holy site.“ The official said Israel continues to stand by the 1994 peace treaty with Jordan and its provision of a special Jordanian role in Jerusalem holy sites.

Mr Feiglin told the Knesset during the debate that “every terror organisation can wave its flag on the Temple Mount, but the flag of Israel? Forget about it. [Reciting] a chapter of Psalms is reason for arrest. Even wearing a skullcap on the head is something the policemen recommend taking off. I call on the government of Israel to stop the discrimination and humiliation of Jews at the entrance to the Mount”.

Miri Regev, another far-right Likud legislator, said during the Knesset debate that Israel should establish separate prayer times for Jews and Muslims on the Mount as it did at the Cave of the Patriarchs site in Hebron, revered by Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque. ”We will reach a situation where the Temple Mount will be like the Cave of the Patriarchs, days for Jews and days for Muslims,“ she said.

Zahava Galon, head of the dovish Meretz party, said: ”No one disputes that Jews have the right to go up to the Temple Mount. At this time, there is a discussion of the diplomatic wisdom of this.

“He who stands here and calls for going up to the Temple Mount is making a provocation whose goal is to detonate Israel’s relations with the Muslim world, establish facts on the ground and hamper the diplomatic process.“

Tensions over the holy site have in the past led to sustained violence. In 2000, the then opposition leader Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to the site triggered the outbreak of the second intifada uprising.

Mr Seidemann says he fears the strong emotions over the site could be used by those who want to disrupt the current peace diplomacy of US Secretary of State John Kerry. ”I’m very worried because the motivation of crazies – Jewish, Christian and Muslim – is always on the increase when there’s a political process going on,“ he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Metail Ltd: Business Development Manager for Asia Pacific

£35,000 - £40,000 based on experience : Metail Ltd: As a Business Development ...

Guru Careers: Product Manager / Product Owner

£30 - 40k (DOE) + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product ...

Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - £17,000 Basic, OTE Uncapped

£17000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company are looking for a S...

Recruitment Genius: 1st / 2nd Line Technical Analyst

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 1st / 2nd Line Technical Anal...

Day In a Page

Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate