Hanegbi address Conference of Presidents' Israel Leadership Mission
Hanegbi address Conference of Presidents' Israel Leadership MissionYonatan Sindel/Flash90

The Israeli government is preparing an alternative to the Reform-backed Western Wall Plaza plan, Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) told American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem on Monday.

Speaking at the Conference of Presidents’ 42nd annual Leadership Mission to Israel being held at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem, Hanegbi told American Jewish leaders that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu still endorses the position he laid out in his 2009 Bar Ilan address, in which he agreed to the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state following negotiations conditioned on the Palestinian Authority’s recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

Nevertheless, Hanegbi pointed out that practically, little could be done with Mahmoud Abbas leading the PA.

“The Prime Minister still stands by his Bar Ilan speech – but you need a partner. Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] replaced Arafat, and John Kerry was disappointed by Abu Mazen’s evasions. The world understands that, and the new [Trump] administration understands that better than any previous government.”

Hanegbi also addressed the ill-fated Western Wall plan, which would have altered the layout of the Western Wall Plaza and granted tacit recognition of the Reform Movement at the holy site.

The plan was suspended last year, before being officially cancelled in January.

Hanegbi vowed that the government would devise and implement an alternative plan to alter the layout of the southern section of the Western Wall Plaza.

“There’s a budget of 70 million shekels ($20 million) set aside for revamping the southern Western Wall area. It will be a beautiful place that will really draw people.”

At present, the main Western Wall Plaza features separate prayer areas for women and men, as per Jewish tradition.

A separate prayer space also exists at the southern end of the Western Wall for non-traditional prayer services.

In 2000, in response to a series of court rulings, the government opened the southern prayer space, consisting of several temporary platforms near Robinson’s Arch, to non-traditional prayer groups, including services led by the Reform and Conservative movements.

The Reform Movement, however, has demanded the southern prayer space be expanded and integrated into the larger Western Wall Plaza – in effect turning the southern prayer area into a third section of the existing Plaza, alongside the men’s and women’s sections.

In addition, representatives of the Reform and Conservative movements would be granted oversight of the expanded southern section of the Plaza – a move Orthodox opponents of the plan said was tantamount to recognition of the two movements, a violation of Israel’s decades-old Status Quo on religion and state.