Public Security Minister Tzachi HaNegbi announced in the Knesset last night that, "soon, very soon," Jews would be permitted once again to visit the Temple Mount. He said that Jews would be allowed to "pray individually" at the holy site, in accordance with the status quo between 1967 and 2000.

The last Jew to publicly visit the site was Ariel Sharon, who, as a Likud MK in late September 2000, made a well-publicized visit to the site. His purpose was to protest then-Prime Minister Barak's willingness to cede the area as part of a peace agreement with the PLO. The PA used the occasion to break out its previously-planned war of terrorism; PA official Imad Faluji said on March 2, 2001 that the violence "had been planned since Chairman Arafat's return from Camp David [in the summer of 2000]." The Temple Mount has been closed to Jewish worshipers and Israeli visitors ever since, under the threat of more Arab violence.

The Waqf, the Muslim religious trust that essentially runs the site, was not moved by HaNegbi's announcement. "The Arab standpoint, the Waqf standpoint, is that there is no change in the decision of not allowing non-Muslims to enter the place," Waqf director Adnan Husseini told Voice of Israel this morning.

Minister HaNegbi responded in the Knesset last night to a Knesset query by Arab MK Abdel Malek Dahamshe, who asked for clarifications about Jerusalem Police Chief Mickey Levy's recent declaration that the Temple Mount would soon be opened to Jews. "There is no justification for the veto on the entry of Christians and Jews to the Temple Mount," HaNegbi said. "Any attempt to intimidate by the use of violence will not be tolerated."

He added that the government would attempt to reach an agreement with the Moslem Waqf, "but if there can be no agreement, then we will do so unilaterally." He said that Jewish entry to its most sacred site in the world is "the correct, moral, and logical thing."

Even if the government permits Jewish entry to the holy site, several aspects of the issue will remain unresolved. Jewish Law forbids entry to the site of the Holy Temple as long as the Red Heifer sacrifice cannot be brought and Jews are still ritually impure. However, there are certain areas of the Mount that are not included in this ban. Some rabbis say that Jews may - nay, should - enter these areas, after immersing themselves in a ritual bath and taking other precautions. Others, however, backed by the Chief Rabbinate, say that to ensure that this grave prohibition is not mistakenly violated, Jews should not ascend to the Temple Mount at all.