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"Jerusalem Powder Keg" - Mughrabi Gate Construction

Excerpts from Israeli newspaper articles in APN's Middle East Peace Report of 2/12/07

Excerpts from Israeli newspaper articles in APN's Middle East Peace Report of 2/12/07:

JERUSALEM POWDER KEG: On Wednesday Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz wrote to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert requesting that work on the new ramp to the Mughrabi Gate be stopped due to security considerations. Peretz attached an opinion written by General Amos Gilad, chief of the Defense Ministry's political-military bureau, who warned that the construction was causing considerable damage and would create foment in the Arab world. Peretz said that he only learned of the construction on Wednesday, although other officials dispute this claim.

Jerusalem police and other security officials who had been consulted preferred that the existing walkway be restored instead of constructing a new bridge. In consultations held just prior to the beginning of work, security officials reportedly said that the internal clashes in the Palestinian Authority made this an optimal time for carrying out this work.

Yet aides to Defense Minister Peretz said that "the activity on the Temple Mount was gratuitous." They added that "the fact that a decision of this sort was made without including either the defense minister or his aides is very grave unto itself. This decision was made without good judgment. There was intelligence about unrest, about how the Islamic Movement was waiting for a pretext to ignite things, and they acted despite all that. The defense minister and the security establishment have a national and moral obligation to warn when a situation of that sort is created."

Tensions are so high that this weekend a high-ranking police official warned that a rumor of people killed on the Temple Mount could start a riot within minutes in Wadi Ara, the villages in the Galilee and, later on, the Bedouin communities in the Negev. Protest demonstrations were held in Jenin, Nablus, Gaza, Hebron and Bethlehem. In cities in which there is friction with Israel, such as Hebron and Bethlehem, clashes erupted between Palestinians and the security forces. The state of alert for terror attacks has been raised across Israel.

The Israeli Cabinet on Sunday approved the continuation of the excavations with the support of nearly all of the ministers, excluding Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Education Minister Yuli Tamir, and Minister Ghaleb Majadele, all of whom abstained. Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupoliansky announced Monday that he was postponing the construction of the ramp until additional discussions could be held about the plan. Lupoliansky's decision comes following discussions with Western Wall Rabbi Rabinowitz and Muslim clerics. Excavations will continue. (Haaretz, 2/8 & 2/11/07; Maariv, 2/11/07; Yedioth Ahronoth, 2/9 & 2/11/07; Israel Radio, 2/12/07)

JERUSALEM POWDER KEG, PART II: On Friday, Ha'aretz's Yoel Marcus wrote that "the old saying 'it's worse than a crime; it's a blunder,' applies to the construction of the new bridge to the Mugrabi Gate on the Temple Mount. The plans drawn up by the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Jerusalem Municipality were okayed by Ehud Olmert, but they were not coordinated with the Waqf and upset the king of Jordan. It didn't take long for the rumor to spread that the Jews are out to destroy Islamic holy sites. From here to an outbreak of rioting, the road is short. The government is not such a hero when it comes to battling its own ultra-Orthodox extremists. It halted work on the Trans-Israel Highway because of a few unidentified bones that turned up in the excavations. In the matter of the Temple Mount, Olmert wants to have it his way. He also thought he was the smartest guy in creation when he initiated the opening of the Western Wall tunnel and set off riots that left 16 Israelis and 69 Arabs dead. Ariel Sharon thought he was the cleverest of men when he went up to the Temple Mount, triggering the al-Aqsa intifada. The problem is that our great brains don't always know how to get out of the fixes that smart people never get into in the first place."

Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth on Wednesday Roni Shaked recalled that "each time the Palestinians engage in internal wars, our leaders have a special talent for uniting them against us. This was the case when the Western Wall tunnels were opened in 1996 and when Sharon ascended to the Temple Mount in 2000. This is happening now too, in the construction of the new bridge to the Mughrabi Gate.

"For the Muslim world, which has been feeling increasingly threatened by the West in recent years, the el-Aksa Mosque is not only the third most holy site after Mecca and Medina, it is a symbol of the political battle against Israel and the West. The Muslims fear a Jewish-Zionist plot to destroy the mosques and build the Third Temple in their stead.

"Yesterday, the Muslim world united in hatred for Israel, in light of the images of the Israeli bulldozer on the Temple Mount, at the foot of the golden mosque. Senior religious leaders from Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt poured venom in Israel. Arab leaders, headed by the king of Jordan, warned that the work increases tension in the region. The volcano in Jerusalem is threatening to erupt once again, and perhaps to ignite a third Intifada.

"All this commotion could have been avoided. The repairs to the path of the dirt rampart that was damaged three years ago could have been carried out in coordination with the Muslim Wakf. The Wakf would have cooperated, as it did 15 years ago, when it agreed to have a supporting wall built next to the dirt rampart. But the bulldozers started out without Israel having taken the position of the Wakf into consideration, without in-depth planning or a serious discussion. There is no debate over the fact that Israel has the full right to build anywhere in Jerusalem. It is possible to build a bridge, it is possible to renovate and restore, but this has to be done in an intelligent and dignified manner. And without shaking the powder keg." (Ha'aretz, 2/9/07; Yedioth Ahronoth, 2/7/07)