Talks reportedly recently began in Israel about giving Saudi Arabia an official status on the Temple Mount, in addition to, or as a replacement, for Jordan, which has had a custodian status of the Temple Mount since 1994.
The reason for these talks is to move toward normalization with Saudi Arabia. Granting such status will be considered part of a quid pro quo for the long-awaited peace.
From a realistic view of the Muslim world today, Israel must reject outright any attempt by Saudi Arabia to obtain official status in Jerusalem for several reasons.
Why Saudi Arabia Must Not Have Any Official Status in Jerusalem
First, Jerusalem has been the capital city of Israel for more than 3,000 years, and the place of the Temple has been the heart of the Jewish people since the days of David and Solomon, 1,600 years before Islam came into the world.
Any renunciation of full Jewish sovereignty over the site of the Temple is interpreted in the Muslim world as a Jewish renunciation of the very existence of the Jewish religion, something that undercuts the reason for the existence of the State of Israel. Would it occur to Muslims to give up full Muslim sovereignty over the Kaaba complex in Mecca?
Second, Israel made many mistakes regarding the Temple Mount. The first mistake was when Moshe Dayan handed over the administration of the site to the Jerusalem Wakf Islamic religious trust in 1967, with an understanding that they would not object to his illegal archaeological activities.
The second mistake was giving the Jordanian kingdom its status on the Temple Mount in 1994, on the assumption that the Jordanian king would keep the PLO and Hamas away from the compound.
Over the years, it became clear that not only did he, and then his son, not keep the Palestinian Authority away from the Temple Mount, the king reached official agreements that gave the PLO an official status. Israel did nothing to stop this and today the Palestinian Authority is also involved in what is happening on the Temple Mount and in Jerusalem.
Third, the Temple Mount is a focus of subversive anti-Israeli activity by Turkey. A Saudi presence could cause conflicts between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and negatively affect Israel's relations with Turkey. Israel must remove any Turkish influence from the mountain.
Fourth, the Temple Mount is the focus of attention for extremist organizations such as Hizb al-Tahrir (the Islamic Liberation Party), Hamas, and the northern and southern factions of the Islamic movement, among others. What they all have in common is their burning hatred for the Saudi royal family. Any clash between Saudi Arabia and these organizations could ignite the flames of conflict, and the blame would fall on Israel.
Fifth, it is possible that today there are understandings between the Israeli government and the Saudi crown prince, but there is no assurance that these understandings will survive the test of time. In the future, there may be changes in relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia that will lead to tensions between the two countries. A Saudi presence on the Temple Mount will only worsen the situation.
Sixth, if Saudi Arabia receives an official status on the Temple Mount, it could be blackmailed by Iran to allow Shi'ite activity in Jerusalem under its protection. Even if there is a clause in the agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel that prohibits such a thing, Israel will not violate its peace agreement with Saudi Arabia even if the Saudis are forced to violate this clause under Iranian pressure.
Lastly, Wahhabi Saudi Arabia may try to lower the centrality of Jerusalem in the contemporary Islamic discourse, since according to Islamic sources the original al-Aqsa Mosque, the one mentioned in the Quran (17:1), is located in Saudi Arabia near the village of Juarana, around 30 km. northeast of Mecca.
Any such attempt by the Saudis may arouse the wrath of all the parties mentioned above, and the blame for bringing them into the sensitive equation will be placed squarely on Israel.
FOR ALL these reasons, Israel must not allow Saudi Arabia into the Temple Mount.
In fact, the opposite is necessary. Israel must act to remove all the Islamic parties mentioned above from the Temple Mount complex and renew Jewish sovereignty over the most sacred place for Judaism for more than 3,000 years.
There is nothing preventing Muslims from continuing to pray on the Temple Mount, but the sovereignty and management must be in the hands of the State of Israel.
Any other situation inspires hope in the hearts of Muslims that a day will come – and it is not far away – that the Jews will run away, because if they give up their central place of worship, they really do not believe in their connection to Jerusalem and the Land of Israel.
The introduction of Saudi Arabia to the Temple Mount will only strengthen the feeling of Muslims that Jews have no connection to Jerusalem and the whole country. This feeling is at the basis of the jihad against the existence of the State of Israel as the national, ancestral, and indigenous homeland of the Jewish people.
Mordechai Kedar is an assistant professor in the department of Arabic and Middle East studies and a research associate with the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies, both at Bar Ilan University, Israel.