On the morning of June 7, 1967, the third day of the third Arab-Israeli war, Israeli paratroopers stormed Jerusalem’s Old City, making their way to the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. Once there, they raised the Israeli flag and radioed headquarters, “The Temple Mount is in our hands.”
The flag was lowered and removed moments later after Defense Minister Moshe Dayan warned doing such a thing would set the Middle East on fire and turn the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a Holy War. The site was returned to the Muslim Waqf under Jordanian control but with Israeli security, a status that has remained in place until today, with Israeli Prime Minister reaffirming it as recently as 2015.
With Israel becoming the unchallenged regional military power, however, a growing chorus of right-wing Israeli figures and those aligned with the settler movement have not only called for the Temple Mount to be seized but also for the immediate construction of a Third Temple atop the ruins of the Dome of the Rock.
“I don’t want to build a [Third] Temple in one or two years, I want to build it now.”
“I don’t want to build a [Third] Temple in one or two years, I want to build it now,” said Moshe Feiglin, the head of the Zehut Party, at a Maariv/Jerusalem Post conference in Tel Aviv in 2019.
The right-leaning Times of Israel characterized Feiglin’s plea as “unrealistic in the extreme,” adding that “even small changes at the status quo on the tinderbox holy site, where Jews can currently visit but not pray, have met with vociferous and often violent protests.”
But much has changed since then. Now the Arab Gulf monarchies have publicly outed their long-standing close relationship with Israel’s right-wing government, a romance built on a shared hatred of Iran and contempt for the Palestinian people.
The details of the great Arab Gulf betrayal of the Palestinian people and the entire Muslim world can be found in the joint normalization of ties with Israel statement signed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, and brokered by the United States.
“As set forth in the Vision of Peace, all Muslims who come in peace may visit and pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem’s other holy sites should remain open for peaceful worshippers of all faiths,” reads the joint statement signed on August 13.
This wording is deceptive, for it defines anything that is not Al-Aqsa mosque as one of “Jerusalem’s other holy sites,” leaving open the possibility of Jewish prayer and Israeli sovereignty over the compound.
“This choice of terminology is neither random nor a misstep and cannot [be] seen as anything but an intentional albeit surreptitious attempt to leave the door wide open to Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, thereby radically changing the status quo,” according to a report published by Terrestrial Jerusalem, adding that this will have “far-reaching and potentially explosive ramifications.”
The UAE-Israel statement “very clearly says the mosque is not under Muslim sovereignty.”
Khaled Zabarqa, a Palestinian lawyer specializing in Al-Aqsa and Jerusalem affairs, told Al Jazeera the UAE-Israel statement “very clearly says the mosque is not under Muslim sovereignty” and “gives a green light for Israeli sovereignty.”
Another ominous development is the ongoing purchases of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem in areas adjacent to Muslim and Christian holy sites such as the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Often it is poor Palestinian families in dire economic conditions who are targeted by Palestinian buyers acting as middlemen for Israeli settlers. Many Palestinians believe these transactions are allegedly made possible with funds from a company owned by Mohamed Dahlan, a former Palestinian official working with the UAE.
One must now wonder how long until Israel allows Jewish prayer at the mosque, and then how much longer after that will it begin construction of a Third Temple on the ruins of the Dome of the Rock.
These ponderings lead only to dark places, given the rightward drift in Israeli politics during the past two decades, and given Israel has paid zero geopolitical price for changing the status quo over Jerusalem, or its threatened annexation of the West Bank. Its frequent ongoing bombing campaigns of Gaza are met with global silence.
A 2013 poll found that roughly one-third of Israeli Jews support construction on the Temple Mount, but the country’s political landscape has changed greatly in the seven years since, with the settler movement shifting from the fringes of Israeli political discourse to the mainstream. This has resulted in the Third Temple movement growing in size and influence, a reality that can be measured by how frequently Israeli settlers storm the mosque compound to perform Talmudic prayers, while under the protection of Israeli security forces.
“Jerusalem’s millennia old history is littered with the bodies, literal and figurative, of conquerors, prophets and emperors acting as though Jerusalem is a private or collective asset to be exploited at whim, or a commodity which can be bartered. One tinkers with Jerusalem at grave peril to all involved, and the provisions of the Joint Statement recklessly tinker with the status quo,” warns Terrestrial Jerusalem.
“Normalization is being used as a cover to allow one of its stakeholders to remold the most sensitive place in Jerusalem in its own ideological image.”
“As currently crafted, normalization is being used as a cover to allow one of its stakeholders to remold the most sensitive place in Jerusalem in its own ideological image,” the report asserts.
That neither the UAE nor Bahrain make their respective normalization agreements contingent on protecting the status quo of Islam’s third holiest site and/or the halt of Israel’s annexation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories underscores the depth of their betrayal of the Palestinian people and the broader Muslim world.
The constraint Israel showed in removing the Israeli flag from atop the mosque compound in 1967 is a thing of the past. The Israeli government no longer fears reprisal from its Arab neighbors, most of which are now its most staunch allies.
This is a powder keg waiting to explode, and all because of the insatiable appetite Arab Gulf regimes have for US and Israeli weapons of war.