For the second time in as many months, Prime Minister Netanyahu has rejected a recommendation from the Israeli police to remove some of the restrictions imposed on Jewish visits to the Temple Mount/Haram El Sharif. The first time was a the end of October, when Netanyahu refused to accept a recommendation made by the Chief of Police to re-open the site for visit by Knesset members (Jewish and Arab) to visit the site, contrary to the December 2015 understandings reached in Amman. The second time came this week, when Israeli Police sought to extend visiting hours for non-Muslim by one hour – a change Netanyahu also blocked opposed it. Both of these police-backed changes, if implemented, would change the current status quo at the site.
It is not clear why the Israeli Police, under Jerusalem District Police Chief Yoram Halevy, are pushing for such changes on the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif. However, these changes are very much in line with demands from Temple Mount activists, who continue to agitate for changes in the status quo to permit greater Jewish access and control on the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif.
At the same time, the implications of Netanyahu rejecting the changes are varied. On the one hand, he appears to be demonstrating (or at least making a pretense of demonstrating) that he is sensitive to the tensions that any disruption in the status quo would provoke with Jordan and to the potential impact such a disruption would likely have on the fragile quiet in Jerusalem. On the other hand, his seems to be making a point of showing that he is confident enough of his political position to stand up to pressure from Temple Mount activists, including in his own government, who are pushing for the status quo to be changed.
That said, these leaks about the Netanyahu stopping the extension of the visiting times may be only, indeed, a pretense: in recent days, opening hours on the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif have, in actual fact, been extended – beginning fifteen minutes earlier and ending one half hour later than in the past.