Only two business days into the new Israeli government and the media was abuzz with rumors of a visit to the Temple Mount by the newly installed and highly polarizing national security minister, Itamar Ben Gvir.
Such a visit would have the potential to shake the delicate status quo of the holy site.
Ben Gvir, the head of the Jewish Power party who just assumed authority over the Israel Police, is a frequent visitor to the site who has said it is necessary to “remind everyone that we are the owners of the holiest place for the people of Israel.”
However, now he would ascend as a Cabinet minister and the first one in several years who has. The infamous visit by late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2000 is often blamed for sparking the Second Intifada – the Palestinian uprising characterized by catastrophic suicide bombings throughout Israel.
Ben Gvir on Monday acknowledged the reports in a tweet and welcomed the media coverage.
“Indeed, the Temple Mount is an important issue and, as I said, I plan to go there on an official visit,” Ben Gvir said on Twitter. “As for the timetable – I promise to let you know when I do visit. I would be delighted if every evening’s newscasts begin with reports dealing with the question of when I intend to visit the Temple Mount.”
But by the end of the news cycle on Monday, media reports said that Ben Gvir would delay his visit.
Gadi Hitman Ph.D., a senior lecturer at Ariel University’s Middle East Department, told ALL ISRAEL NEWS that the whole exercise was a trial balloon to test the political waters and reactions.
Further, there are three possible outcomes when Ben Gvir does visit.
“If Netanyahu stops him, nothing has happened and everything will stay the same,” Hitman said. “If he does go up, Hamas has warned already they can launch missiles to Jerusalem itself and send a message and they can call the Palestinians to come out in Judea and Samaria.”
And lastly, if Ben Gvir goes up and nothing happens? This could be the most impactful outcome of all.
“This is a dramatic change of the current status quo,” Hitman said.
The lack of reaction could embolden more Jewish prayers and visits. Nevertheless, no one knows that better than Hamas.
“I’m not a prophet, but we can think critically,” Hitman said.
He said history could repeat itself. Even before he became a Knesset member, Ben Gvir purposely set up an office in a flashpoint Jerusalem neighborhood where a disputed property has pit Arab and Jewish residents against each other in an extended legal and physical battle.
“The moment that Ben Gvir put his office in Sheik Jarrah, a few days later the situation in Jerusalem and elsewhere deteriorated quickly,” Hitman recalled, describing events that led to the 11-day war in 2021 between Israel and Gaza. “Israeli police officers entered the Temple Mount trying to evacuate some Muslim worshippers who tried to break the law, then Hamas fired missiles and then we got into the escalation in the mixed cities.”
BEN GVIR ASSUMED NEW ROLE ON SUNDAY
The rumors of a planned visit followed the day after Ben Gvir traded barbs with Omer Barlev in the traditional handover ceremony for the position of public security minister which has been renamed national security minister.
Barlev denounced Ben Gvir’s reforms of the department which he said would undermine the rule of law, and “cause police to be completely controlled by politicians and leave the police as a puppet on a string.”
In his speech, Ben Gvir called Barlev “the most failed public security minister ever, who should have hung up his keys a long time ago and gone home.”
Ben Gvir’s job now is to implement Israeli security all over the West Bank and East Jerusalem – and that includes the Temple Mount. In his new position, Ben Gvir will hold significant sway over arrangements at the site which is secured by Israeli police.
Adding to the charged atmosphere, earlier this year, Jewish men tried to sneak a goat onto the site to sacrifice it.
The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism. The location is believed to be where both the First and Second Temple stood. It is the third holiest site in Islam and, currently, the plaza is home to Al Aqsa Mosque. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims pray there annually.
Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS