Palestinian Authority officials have lambasted Israel’s plans to renovate and upgrade the historic Western Wall plaza area, approved Monday by the Jerusalem planning and construction committee. PA leaders insist that peace is impossible as long as Israel continues to create a Jewish presence in the holy areas of the ancient city. These areas, however, were holy to Jews many centuries before Islam came into being.
The plans, which include creation of an underground plaza and tunnel leading from the main entrance at the Dung Gate leading to the Western Wall, are the most extensive since the Western Wall plaza was first renovated after the Old City was restored to Jerusalem following the 1967 Six Day War. The Western Wall plaza was filled with tumbledown shacks at the time; while it was cleared and renovated by Israel, the Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site for thousands of years, was left in the hands of the Arab Wakf. Jews can ascend to the Temple Mount, but are not allowed to pray there.
According to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, eight million visitors arrive at the site each year, with the Tourism Ministry hoping to double the number within the next decade.
PA officials, however, complain that the plan is simply another nail in the coffin of failed negotiations between Israel and Ramallah over the final status of Jerusalem, giving them another reason to refrain from negotiations.
Hassan Khater, secretary-general of the Islamic Christian Corporation in Jerusalem, told the Xinhua news service Tuesday, “This plan is similar to heart surgery because it first targets al-Aqsa Mosque, which is the heart of the city.” Khater accused Israel of “demolishing the Arab and Islamic identities of the city and forcing its residents to leave,” so Jews could “seize the entire city.”
PA Arabs raised similar objections in 2007, when Israel was forced to carry out repairs to a badly broken walkway leading to the entrance of the Temple Mount from the Rambam (Mughrabi) Gate.
Then, as now, the Waqf Authority and Arabs around the world claimed Israel was secretly attempting to destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque that is built atop the Temple Mount, just a few meters from the Western Wall. Muslim clerics whipped their followers into a frenzy of hate at Friday sermons, encouraging worshippers to take to the streets in violent riots in the Jewish State and massive anti-Israel demonstrations around the world.
Palestinian Authority official Khalil Tafaqi said the decision “serves Israel’s interests to declare the whole city as the capital of their Jewish state and as a message to the Palestinians that Jerusalem could never be shared.” PA media spokesman Ghassan al-Khatib also warned, “Real and just peace between Israelis and the Palestinians can never be achieved without having east Jerusalem as the capital of the independent Palestinian state.”
The ancient Roman highway that begins at the entrance near the Old City’s Shiloah (Silwan) neighborhood, and which leads to current archaeological excavations, will be renovated and reopened, enabling visitors to view the exciting results of the ongoing digs.
A new visitors’ center, classrooms, an auditorium, additional rest room facilities and disability access will be included, as well as exhibition space for artifacts discovered in the archaeological excavations. A moveable separation barrier between the men’s and women’s sections will allow authorities to expand the women’s section when the need arises, and an electronic elevator will link the Jewish quarter with a hall at the Western Wall.