On December 8th Jerusalem city engineer Shlomo Eshkol issued an order closing the ramp “because the structure is a threat to public safety and highly flammable” (full press release copied below). The Western Wall Heritage Foundation – which has responsibility for the site – now has 7 days “to petition their concerns to the order of the City Engineer.”
It should be pointed out that the ramp is today no more structurally unstable (or flammable) than it has been at any time since it was initially damaged and reinforced. It is also difficult to miss the irony implicit in the current effort: Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Eshkol insisting that the ramp must be demolished for (highly dubious) reasons of public safety, while they are apparently entirely unmoved by and unconcerned with the very real public safety implications of an action that has the potential to ignite the city and to spread conflict far beyond the city’s borders.
Clearly, this is not about public safety. Rather, this announcement is a transparent effort to force the Netanyahu government’s hand – in effect saying: if you won’t demolish the ramp, and you won’t let us do so, then we will close the ramp – and it will be your fault that as of today, no Jews (and, in fact, no non-Muslims) will be able to ascend the Temple Mount (the Mughrabi Gate ramp is the only ramp that may be used by non-Muslims).
Indeed, hours after the municipality issued its press release, in what to all appearances seems to have been an approach choreographed in advance, two right-wing Knesset members (Uri Ariel and Arieh Eldad) demanded that "an alternate gate" be opened to permit Jewish access to the Temple Mount (in addition to demanding that the existing Mughrabi Gate ramp be demolished and the planned new ramp be built). Stunningly, this appears to be a clear effort to exploit the issue of the Mughrabi Gate ramp in order to definitively alter the status quo on the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif -- by demanding that for the first time since 1967 Israel take over one of the other 9 gates from Islamic authorities and open it for expanded Jewish access. Eldad made clear that he is not worried about the impact any such action might have outside of Israel, including in Jordan (which under the Israel-Jordan peace agreement has responsibility for Islamic sites in Jerusalem). He stated: "The time has come that the state of Israel implement sovereignty in Jerusalem and stop relating to the city as an international area where every Arab leader whose chair is wobbling can exercise a veto over Israeli activity."
This is only the latest – and most serious – in an ongoing round of political jockeying over the Mughrabi Gate ramp. At the end of November,Barkat also tried to force the demolition of the ramp, but was put off by Netanyahu, who reportedly faced strong push-back on the issue from Egypt and Jordan.
The potential combustibility of this issue cannot be overstated. The demolition of the access ramp without coordination with the Arab and Muslim stakeholders could lead to a conflagration, and the issue is already being used by extreme Islamic elements to challenge the forces of moderation in the Arab world. For example see “Al-Qaradawi calls on King of Jordan to take action against Israeli attacks on Jerusalem.”
Moreover, irresponsible actions regarding the ramp not only could lead to violence, but will pose a serious challenge to Israel’s already strained relations with Jordan and Egypt.
A map of the plan for the new Mughrabi Gate ramp can be viewed/downloaded here. For background on the Mughrabi Gate ramp issue, see our earlier reporting, here.