Middle East Monitor / September 1, 2020
An Israeli study centre specialising in Jerusalem affairs has concluded that the Israeli-UAE normalisation agreement makes an unprecedented change in the city’s religious sanctuaries and Muslim rights in the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa. A report by Terrestrial Jerusalem says that the agreement provides legitimacy for Jews to pray inside the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa, which many do already with daily incursions, and limits Muslim rights to pray in occupied Jerusalem.
The NGO is an independent centre that specialises in monitoring the changes and developments taking place in Jerusalem. It is run by well-known Israeli political analyst and activist Daniel Seidman. According to Newsweek, he is “the most knowledgeable person of what is happening in Jerusalem and he hardly misses even moving a pile of dirt from one place to another in the holy city.”
The UAE-Israeli agreement, says the report, involves a significant change in the status of the Holy City in favour of the Israelis. This is done in such a way that it removes any hope that Jerusalem will become the capital of a future Palestinian state.
The specific clause included in the joint UAE-Israel statement issued a few days ago appears at first to be in the interest of the Muslim community: “Muslims who come to Israel in peace have the right to pray in Al-Aqsa Mosque.” The centre notes that this is the first time that the term “Al-Aqsa Mosque” has been used in an international document rather than Al-Haram Al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary (of Al-Aqsa).
However, “For the first time the right of Muslims is reduced to Al-Aqsa Mosque only,” says the report, instead of the whole sanctuary. Muslims, however, regard the whole Sanctuary to be Al-Aqsa Mosque, and not the mosque building adjoining its southern wall alone. Israelis say that Al-Aqsa Mosque is that particular building and everything else within the sanctuary walls is the “Temple Mount”. This means that Israel is making a significant change to the Holy City with the approval of an Arab country, the UAE.
The same clause also states that “other holy places remain open in Jerusalem for peaceful worshippers of other religions.” This means allowing Jews to pray inside the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa except for the aforementioned mosque building. As the report claims, this is a redefinition of religious sites, and a change in the status of Al-Aqsa Mosque, again with UAE approval.
There are now fears that the UAE-Israel agreement will lead to the spatial division of the Noble Sanctuary similar to what Israel has imposed at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron. This has been divided between Muslims and Jews, to the extent that the Jewish section is now greater than that allocated to the much larger Muslim community in the city.
US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century” insisted that people of all religions must be allowed to pray inside the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa, including Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock Mosque and a number of other places within the walls of the old Haram. This also reduced the right of Muslims to Al-Aqsa Mosque alone instead of the whole sanctuary.