An Israeli lawmaker has proposed a plan to divide Al-Aqsa Mosque complex between Muslims and Jews, sparking outrage and condemnation from Palestinians who consider the site as one of their holiest places.
Amit Halevi, a member of the ruling Likud party, outlined his plan in an interview with the Hebrew-language newspaper Zeman Israel¹, in which he called for giving Muslims around 30 percent of the southern section of the complex, while the rest would be left for Jews, including the area where the Dome of the Rock is located.
Al-Aqsa Mosque complex, which spans 14 hectares and includes the Dome of the Rock as well as the silver-domed al-Qibli prayer hall, is an Islamic site where unsolicited visits, prayers and rituals by non-Muslims are forbidden according to decades-long international agreements.
The hill on which the mosque sits is known to Jews as the Temple Mount, and is believed to be the site where two ancient Jewish temples once stood.
Halevi’s proposal comes in the wake of increasing Israeli intrusions by right-wing settlers, and repeated violations of existing agreements over the use of the site by Israeli forces.
Since Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, including the Old City where Al-Aqsa Mosque is located, Israeli ultra-nationalist groups have pushed for imposing “full sovereignty” over the site, triggering concern that the Palestinian and Islamic nature of the site would be altered.
Israel’s control of East Jerusalem violates several principles under international law, which stipulates that an occupying power has no sovereignty in the territory it occupies and cannot make any permanent changes there.
Palestinians Reject Plan
The proposed plan was met with rejection by Palestinians who said it would “drag the region into the furnace of a religious war”.
The Higher Presidential Committee of Church Affairs in Palestine said in a statement that the plan must be “stopped and confronted”.
Palestinians have long feared that the groundwork is being laid to divide Al-Aqsa Mosque between Jews and Muslims, just like the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron was split in the 1990s.
They cite the recent increase in the number of Israeli ultra-nationalists visiting and praying in Al-Aqsa under police protection without permission from Palestinians.
In 2009, 5,658 settlers entered the mosque in such incursions. In 2019, just before the Covid-19 pandemic, the number rose to 30,000², according to some estimates.
Mustafa Abu Sway³, a professor of Islamic studies at Al-Quds University and an expert on Al-Aqsa Mosque affairs, wrote in an opinion piece for Middle East Eye that Halevi’s plan reflects growing right-wing fanaticism in Israel, alongside personal political ambitions within the Likud Party.
He said that Halevi’s proposal would abolish the historical status quo at Al-Aqsa, which stipulates that only Muslims can pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque.
He also warned that Halevi’s plan aligns with the wishes of many current and former Israeli politicians, some of whom have expressed a desire to destroy the Dome of the Rock and replace it with a Third Temple.
Abu Sway called on Muslims around the world to stand in solidarity with Palestinians and defend their rights to Al-Aqsa Mosque.
He also urged international bodies such as UNESCO and UN Security Council to intervene and protect Al-Aqsa Mosque from Israeli aggression and provocation.