In addition to Prime Minister Netanyahu seizing this moment to open the settlement floodgates in East Jerusalem, others in his government are seizing the moment, too, to press for unprecedented changes in the status quo on the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif. (For comprehensive background/analysis on the campaign to change the status quo at the site, see our October 17, 2012 article: Status quo on the Temple Mount?)
On August 11, a Knesset committee held a debate on the topic (no representative of the government attended). During the debate, the chair of the committee, MK Miri Regev (Likud) urged Israeli security officials to permit Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount during this year’s High Holidays. According to that same report, she argued that “The issue of the Temple Mount is neither political nor religious”; another outlet reported she said that “the question of Jewish ascent to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City is political and not a matter of halkha (Jewish law).”
During an event held August 6 (hosted by the right-wing “Americans for a Safe Israel”), MK Moshe Feiglin reportedly “promised that he will not let Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu alone” until the issue of the right of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount is taken care of, and he reportedly called on other MKs to vote against the government until the demand for Jewish access is met. Earlier in the month, Feiglin called on Jews to “flood the temple mount.” On August 7th, Jews demanding access to the site demonstrated (also here) in front of the Mughrabi Gate (protesting in part the closure of the Temple Mount to Jews during the last two weeks of Ramadan).
On August 4th, Israeli Army Radio revealed that the Israel government is providing funding for the (apparently very well financed) Temple Institute, a far right-wing group whose avowed goal is, “to see Israel rebuild the Holy Temple on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem, in accord with the Biblical commandments.” The group's website site helpfully shows supporters/visitors what the Temple Mount will (or could) look like “tomorrow” – a photoshopped picture of the Temple Mount with the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock removed, and replaced by the re-built Jewish temple. On July 6, the Temple Institute released its 2013 Tisha b’Av video, entitled “The Children Are Ready” – making the case that it is time, now, to rebuild the temple (the 2012 video, also entitled “The Children Are Ready,” is available here; for some analysis of both videos, see this report from Open Zion).
On July 29th, in an apparent media stunt, Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin (Likud) visited the Temple Mount with journalists and cameras in tow, only to be asked to leave by Israeli police after Palestinians began protesting his presence. The previous day, on the Jewish holy day of Tisha b’Av, Elkin took part in another Temple Mount-focused media stunt, trying to visit the site accompanied by another right-wing Knesset member, Shuli Mualem-Rafaeli (Bayit Yehudi), and a large group of activists. Israeli security did not permit them access to the site (Elkin reportedly also visited the Temple Mount with his family earlier that month). Another large group of Jewish worshippers had ascended the Temple Mount the previous day, on the eve of Tisha b’Av, and were also asked to leave by Israeli security. Earlier in the month, Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Likud Beiteinu) made a surprise visit to the Temple Mount, reportedly earning a warning from the Minister of Public Security. Shortly before the visit, speaking at a right-wing conference deep in the West Bank, Ariel openly called for the Temple to be rebuilt, stating: ““We’ve built many little, little temples but we need to build a real Temple on the Temple Mount.”
It should be emphasized: there is no reason at this point to believe that Netanyahu will countenance any formal modification of the status quo on the Temple Mount. Indeed, he and Israeli security forces deserve high grades for the way they handled prayer arrangements during Ramadan. On the one hand, the numbers of West Bank Palestinians allowed to access Haram al Sharif was significantly higher than any period since the outbreak of the second intifada. On the other, police showed zero tolerance for Temple Mount-ers’ provocations.
That said, the flooding of the Temple Mount with provocative Temple Mount-er visits, and the inflammatory pronouncements by key figures in the Israel government, could in themselves destabilize things at the Mount. Tensions remain high.