Israel will not back down on security measures for worshipers entering the Temple Mount compound, Tzachi Hanegbi, Minister for National Security and Foreign Affairs, told Army Radio on Sunday.
“If you are threatening us that you wont enter the Mount, then don’t enter the Mount. Put down prayer mats and pray wherever you want. If you want to pray on the Mount, pass through the checkpoints just as I had to do at the Vatican a few weeks ago, just as we all have to at the Western Wall,” Hanegbi said.
Israel, Hanegbi, said, is the sovereign power in Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount. He stressed that Israel decided to preserve Muslim prayer rights on the Mount immediately after taking control of the site in 1967, maintaining the religious status quo at the site.
However, he said, “the status quo does not include the right to bring arms into the Temple Mount. The status quo does not include the right to murder police officers or anyone else.”
Referring to the July 14 murder of two police officers who were shot dead at the Lions Gate entrance to the Mount, Hanegbi said “Israel is not prepared to put up with the Mount being used as a staging ground for murder, so we set up checkpoints and they will remain.”
Speaking a day after warning Palestinians that intransigence on agreeing to security measures at the al-Aqsa compound could lead to another “nakba,” the Arabic term meaning “disaster” that Palestinians use to describe the establishment of Israel, Hanegbi said he does not fear that the standoff could set the region ablaze.
“The opposite is true,” Hanegbi said. “Giving in to the rioters and the hooligans and allowing them to impose their will on us by force is what will set the region alight,”
Hanegbi also rejected criticism that the government had not taken into account opposition from the security services to the stationing of metal detectors at the entrances to the Mount. He said security officials had presented alternatives to the cabinet which had rejected them as far wider issues were at stake.
“This isn’t just about tactical decisions. A battle is going on for Jerusalem, a battle is going on for sovereignty over the Temple Mount. This isn’t about metal detectors and they will have to learn a lesson: that they will not succeed through force,” Hanegbi said.
“Just as they have failed for the past 100 years; just as they failed since the beginning of Zionism and before the founding of the state through force and through the cruelty that seems unfortunately to be ingrained in them they tried to break us and to erode our legitimacy they will fail this time as well in the battle for the Temple Mount.”