On July 3rd, Netanyahu announced his decision to lift the ban on the visit of Members of the Knesset (MKs) to the Temple Mount/Haram Al Sharif; henceforth, MKs are authorized to enter the site once every three months, on the condition that they coordinate with police in advance, refrain from making public statements during visits, and are not accompanied by members of the media.

This announcement ended a three-year prohibition which followed the 2015 wave of violence in Jerusalem, and was part of a package of stabilization steps taken in coordination with Jordanian officials.

Immediately following Netanyahu’s announcement, Israeli Ministry of Agriculture Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) — an outspoken supporter of changing the status quo on the Temple Mount, including calling for Jewish prayer at the site and rallying support for rebuilding the Jewish temple there — was the first MK to visit the site, followed by Likud’s Sharren Haskel (who appeared on Capitol Hill in 2017, in an event sponsored by Sheldon Adelson, making the case for changing the Temple Mount status quo), and a day later by longtime Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick (Likud), along with Likud’s Amir Ohana (who was denounced for the visit by Temple Mount hardliners, because he is gay) and Bayit Yehudi’s Shuli Moalem-Rafaeli (who took part in a provocative publicity stunt on the Temple Mount in 2013 and who cosponsored legislation seeking to compel the government to allow Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount).

Temple Mount organizations — whose raison d’etre is to force the government to change the status quo at the site — announced that many more visits should be expected during the three weeks-long commemoration of the destruction of the Temple (Ti’sha B’Av), a period that every year is the occasion for provocative actions targeting the site.

Those welcoming this shift of policy very openly harbor ambitions that extending beyond merely resuming and normalizing such visits, toward the explicit goal of pressuring the Prime Minister to go further in changing the status quo at the site to permit Jewish prayer. Moreover, as we noted in previous analysis:

“…for many Temple activists the true goal is not simply to turn the Temple Mount into a shared Muslim-Jewish site (like the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron) but rather to restore the Temple Mount as a fully Jewish site, with the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa mosque erased and replaced by the Third Temple.  While not all Temple Mount activists are animated by such a goal, enough of them openly espouse it that Palestinian/Muslim suspicions in this regard are well-founded (and they have not forgotten that Jewish extremists came very close to carrying out a plot to bomb Muslim sites on the Temple Mount back in the 1980’s).   As a result, in the eyes of Palestinians, visits to the Temple Mount by Temple Mount activists are not unlike a visitor who has long sought to evict you from your home coming by for tea, while taking the opportunity to measure the windows for new curtains.”

Aside from the PA’s condemnation, Netanyahu’s decision sparked no significant diplomatic reaction, perhaps in part because so much of the world’s attention was (and is) focused on the imminent demolition of Khan Al-Ahmar.

Further recommended reading: Shlomi Eldar in Al-Monitor July 10: Israeli right dreams of third temple in Jerusalem