Public Security Minister Tzachi HaNegbi announced yesterday that the Temple Mount would be opened next week to Jews and Christians - either by agreement with the Waqf, or otherwise.


Public Security Minister Tzachi HaNegbi announced yesterday that the Temple Mount would be opened next week to Jews and Christians. Although some Moslems have called the announcement premature, and some left-wing Israelis have criticized HaNegbi's "provocative" declaration, it appears that Egyptian-mediated negotiations with the Waqf have in fact been successful and that the site will be opened. A Moslem official said today that the reason for the Waqf's sudden consent is economic, as the influx of tourists would mean significant financial profits for the Waqf.

The announcement is particularly interesting because it follows a week in which the holy site was suddenly and mysterious closed to non-Moslem visitors - even though it was the week of Tisha B'Av, when the destruction of the Holy Temples is commemorated. The police said only that they were governed by "operational considerations" - though others surmised that it was a simple case of caving in to threats by Yasser Arafat. Jerusalem Police Chief Mickey Levy today dramatically justified last week's closure by saying that it was "almost certain that a wide-ranging incident would have occurred, and I don't know if it would have spread to the rest of the country - and maybe even further."

Minister HaNegbi, who also appeared at today's Knesset committee session on the topic, related to the closure by expressing satisfaction that this past "sensitive" week had passed peacefully. He said he does not believe that Jews will ever again be prevented from ascending to the Temple Mount on Tisha B'Av. "We foresee that by the end of this week," he said, "there will be an agreement that will allow the situation to be restored to its previous state. [If not,] we will have to take unilateral steps to restore the original situation."

Also at today's Knesset committee session, Shas MK Yitzchak Cohen took a surprising stand: "The irresponsible visit to the Temple Mount by Ariel Sharon and other Likud MKs, and the approval granted it by the Barak government, were irresponsible steps that incited the intifada that we are still suffering today..."

Likud MK Gideon Saar protested Cohen's remarks: "Even the Mitchell Committee did not make such wanton determinations. There are elements in the world that rush to make use of things that are said by members of Israel's Knesset. Today, everyone knows that the PA and its leaders directed an organized effort and made military preparations in advance of the [Oslo War]. Anything else said on this matter is first of all a lie, and secondly, weakens Israel in our ongoing political efforts."

PA cabinet member Imad Falouji said at a rally in Lebanon on March 3, 2001,

"Whoever thinks that this [war] started as a result of Sharon's despicable visit to Al Aksa is in error. It was planned since Arafat's return from Camp David [where he] firmly stood up to Clinton and rejected the U.S. terms."

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