Transplanting the Heart of the Matter

It has become an axiomatic belief that solving the Israeli Palestinian conflict is central to resolving numerous other problems in the Middle East. That claim may or may not be an exaggerated one. But there is no doubt that certain aspects of the Israeli Palestinian conflict have become rallying cries to Jihadis throughout the world who proclaim that their armed struggle against Israel and the West must continue until nothing less than the "liberation" of Jerusalem from the hands of the infidel. To be more precise however, Jerusalem per se is not the issue. The heart of the matter is Al-Aqsa and the Mosque of Omar. Al-Aqsa is claimed by Moslem's world wide to be their third holiest site after Mecca and Medina. This is what they mean to "liberate" with fire and blood.

The problem is this is not an issue that can be solved between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel can quite simply never give up the Temple Mount. I do not believe that any Israeli government could ever seriously entertain such a thing. Thus even if some formulation for acknowledging the so called "right of return" for Palestinians were to be found, even if some accommodation could be reached, as was envisioned by the Barak government, regarding East Jerusalem, the heart of the matter, Al-Aqsa and the Mosque of Omer remain unsolvable through any negotiations that could be envisioned between Israel and whatever suitable partner for peace negations ever emerges amongst the Palestinians. Thus, for the Jihadis world wide there will never be an end to Jihad. There will never be an end to blood and fire aimed at Israel and the West.

There is however a possible solution which has yet to be discussed. The solution lies not between Israel and the Palestinians but between Israel and Saudi Arabia. I believe that Israel should explore the possibility of proposing to the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia that the Protectors of Mecca and Medina become the Protectors of Al-Aqsa and the Mosque of Omer. In practice what would such a thing look like? Israel would have to find some sort of formula which would not violate Jewish law. I believe that such a formula could be found. The remains of the Temple are believed to be somewhere beneath the surface of the current plaza on the Temple Mount surrounding Al-Aqsa and the Mosque of Omer. As to where that is exactly both archaeologists and theologians hold varying opinions. Indeed there is a Jewish theological prohibition against Jews going up onto the Temple Mount because no one knows where the Holy of Holies might have been and no Jew but the High Priest himself was allowed onto that ground. But let us imagine a formula which would say that from the surface of the tiles inside Al-Aqsa and the Mosque of Omer, to the top of the ceiling inside both buildings, Saudi Arabia would be granted a kind of quasi counselor status. Thus when a Moslem entered Al-Aqsa or the Mosque of Omer he would no longer be from his point of view in "occupied territory." He would be inside quasi Saudi territory and under the protection of no less than the Saudi Royal Family, the Protectors of Mecca and Medina.

I do not claim to know the exact formula and the devil certainly would be in the details. However if such a formula could be found which would not violate Jewish law, but would place the interior space, from the surface of the tiles to the top of the ceiling, under the symbolic protection of let us say a contingent of a dozen or so Royal Saudi Guards, the single thorniest issue in the Middle East will have been resolved not through blood and fire but negotiation and diplomatic recognition.

The main rallying cry of the most extreme Jihadis will have had the rug pulled out from underneath it. The heart of the heart of the Arab/Israeli dispute will have been transplanted. There is no single other act that would have as profound an effect throughout the entire Moslem world, not just because the interior of the Mosques would be under the protection of the Saudis, but because of the way in which it had been brought about. Nothing would so enhance the Saudis prestige throughout the Islamic world as becoming the Protectors of Al-Aqsa and the Mosque of Omer.

The quid pro quo would have an only slightly less profound effect. Saudi Arabia will have recognized not only the State of Israel but the right of the Jewish State to exist in the Middle East as an integral part of that community. Israel for its part would commit itself to that which it has already repeatedly committed itself; mainly to a two state solution with the Palestinians, to an independent Palestinian state living side by side the Independent State of Israel and to a resolution through negotiations of all outstanding issues between the two states. The Saudis would have to commit themselves to promote such a solution and to fostering an acceptance of Israel's rightful place in the Middle East throughout the Arab world. In addition they would have to commit themselves to keeping the Mosques from being a place where hatred of Israel could be preached (as is now most certainly the case). 

No one believed that Anwar Sadat could sign a peace agreement with Israel without a solution for the Israel Palestinian conflict, however a formulation was found. It was also found in the peace agreement that Israel signed with Jordan. I do not believe that it is impossible to find such a formulation that would permit a Saudi/Israeli concordance allowing the Saudis to become the Protectors of Al-Aqsa and the Mosque of Omer.

Currently, the WAQF, an Islamic trust, is in charge of the Temple Mount. Substituting that for the role of Saudis as protectors would do nothing to alter Israel's sovereignty in Jerusalem. No Saudi flag would fly from the top of the Mosques. The area under their protection once again would be limited to the interiors of the Mosque from the surface of the tiles to the top of the ceiling.

I am a believing Jew. I fear the wrath of God more than the wrath of men. I believe this question should be put to a conclave of Rabbis presided over by the Chief Ashkenazi and Sephardic Rabbis of Israel. If they can find such a formulation that would not violate Jewish Law than there is a possibility that the rallying cry for Jihad could become a seed of peace.

Dan Gordon is the writer as such films as The Hurricane with Denzel Washington, Wyatt Earp with Kevin Costner, Murder in the First with Kevin Bacon and Christian Slater and the author of numerous articles on the Middle East. He served as a captain (Res.) in the IDF in the recent Hezbollah/Israel war.
It has become an axiomatic belief that solving the Israeli Palestinian conflict is central to resolving numerous other problems in the Middle East. That claim may or may not be an exaggerated one. But there is no doubt that certain aspects of the Israeli Palestinian conflict have become rallying cries to Jihadis throughout the world who proclaim that their armed struggle against Israel and the West must continue until nothing less than the "liberation" of Jerusalem from the hands of the infidel. To be more precise however, Jerusalem per se is not the issue. The heart of the matter is Al-Aqsa and the Mosque of Omar. Al-Aqsa is claimed by Moslem's world wide to be their third holiest site after Mecca and Medina. This is what they mean to "liberate" with fire and blood.

The problem is this is not an issue that can be solved between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel can quite simply never give up the Temple Mount. I do not believe that any Israeli government could ever seriously entertain such a thing. Thus even if some formulation for acknowledging the so called "right of return" for Palestinians were to be found, even if some accommodation could be reached, as was envisioned by the Barak government, regarding East Jerusalem, the heart of the matter, Al-Aqsa and the Mosque of Omer remain unsolvable through any negotiations that could be envisioned between Israel and whatever suitable partner for peace negations ever emerges amongst the Palestinians. Thus, for the Jihadis world wide there will never be an end to Jihad. There will never be an end to blood and fire aimed at Israel and the West.

There is however a possible solution which has yet to be discussed. The solution lies not between Israel and the Palestinians but between Israel and Saudi Arabia. I believe that Israel should explore the possibility of proposing to the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia that the Protectors of Mecca and Medina become the Protectors of Al-Aqsa and the Mosque of Omer. In practice what would such a thing look like? Israel would have to find some sort of formula which would not violate Jewish law. I believe that such a formula could be found. The remains of the Temple are believed to be somewhere beneath the surface of the current plaza on the Temple Mount surrounding Al-Aqsa and the Mosque of Omer. As to where that is exactly both archaeologists and theologians hold varying opinions. Indeed there is a Jewish theological prohibition against Jews going up onto the Temple Mount because no one knows where the Holy of Holies might have been and no Jew but the High Priest himself was allowed onto that ground. But let us imagine a formula which would say that from the surface of the tiles inside Al-Aqsa and the Mosque of Omer, to the top of the ceiling inside both buildings, Saudi Arabia would be granted a kind of quasi counselor status. Thus when a Moslem entered Al-Aqsa or the Mosque of Omer he would no longer be from his point of view in "occupied territory." He would be inside quasi Saudi territory and under the protection of no less than the Saudi Royal Family, the Protectors of Mecca and Medina.

I do not claim to know the exact formula and the devil certainly would be in the details. However if such a formula could be found which would not violate Jewish law, but would place the interior space, from the surface of the tiles to the top of the ceiling, under the symbolic protection of let us say a contingent of a dozen or so Royal Saudi Guards, the single thorniest issue in the Middle East will have been resolved not through blood and fire but negotiation and diplomatic recognition.

The main rallying cry of the most extreme Jihadis will have had the rug pulled out from underneath it. The heart of the heart of the Arab/Israeli dispute will have been transplanted. There is no single other act that would have as profound an effect throughout the entire Moslem world, not just because the interior of the Mosques would be under the protection of the Saudis, but because of the way in which it had been brought about. Nothing would so enhance the Saudis prestige throughout the Islamic world as becoming the Protectors of Al-Aqsa and the Mosque of Omer.

The quid pro quo would have an only slightly less profound effect. Saudi Arabia will have recognized not only the State of Israel but the right of the Jewish State to exist in the Middle East as an integral part of that community. Israel for its part would commit itself to that which it has already repeatedly committed itself; mainly to a two state solution with the Palestinians, to an independent Palestinian state living side by side the Independent State of Israel and to a resolution through negotiations of all outstanding issues between the two states. The Saudis would have to commit themselves to promote such a solution and to fostering an acceptance of Israel's rightful place in the Middle East throughout the Arab world. In addition they would have to commit themselves to keeping the Mosques from being a place where hatred of Israel could be preached (as is now most certainly the case). 

No one believed that Anwar Sadat could sign a peace agreement with Israel without a solution for the Israel Palestinian conflict, however a formulation was found. It was also found in the peace agreement that Israel signed with Jordan. I do not believe that it is impossible to find such a formulation that would permit a Saudi/Israeli concordance allowing the Saudis to become the Protectors of Al-Aqsa and the Mosque of Omer.

Currently, the WAQF, an Islamic trust, is in charge of the Temple Mount. Substituting that for the role of Saudis as protectors would do nothing to alter Israel's sovereignty in Jerusalem. No Saudi flag would fly from the top of the Mosques. The area under their protection once again would be limited to the interiors of the Mosque from the surface of the tiles to the top of the ceiling.

I am a believing Jew. I fear the wrath of God more than the wrath of men. I believe this question should be put to a conclave of Rabbis presided over by the Chief Ashkenazi and Sephardic Rabbis of Israel. If they can find such a formulation that would not violate Jewish Law than there is a possibility that the rallying cry for Jihad could become a seed of peace.

Dan Gordon is the writer as such films as The Hurricane with Denzel Washington, Wyatt Earp with Kevin Costner, Murder in the First with Kevin Bacon and Christian Slater and the author of numerous articles on the Middle East. He served as a captain (Res.) in the IDF in the recent Hezbollah/Israel war.