Not for Sentimental or Religious Reasons

Israeli state strategists have treated the issue of the Temple Mount as a mere sentimental and religious one. This has also been the line promoted by national-religious advocates of reappropriation of Jewish heritage and Jewish rights on the Mount. For Palestinian strategists in contrast is this a matter of immense strategic importance. For Palestinian strategists this is a battle for the heart of the entire land. Why the differing conceptions? Israeli geostrategists have been content with exercising sovereignty over the Temple Mount as part of unified Jerusalem and have consistently dismissed those Jews who for religious and sentimental reasons wish to reassert Jewish rights on the Mount. They need to think again. Israel is not located in Scandinavia and its neighbors are imbued with honor culture. In order to impress them and gain their trust you have to play by their cultural rules. It is not merely sufficient to respect their honor, it is even more important to respect your own honor and the Israelis are not doing that on the Temple Mount and have not been doing so since 1967. 

The Israelis are clueless. After all, Israel respects the Ottoman status quo and has not asserted Jewish rights on the Mount. So why are the Palestinians (completely unsuccessfully so shall I add) instigating religious war from the Mount? And why do Arab governments believe in Palestinian propaganda that Israel plans to reassert Jewish rights on the Temple Mount? Because it is a matter of honor and the Arab governments make the mistake of assuming that Israeli strategists think like them, i.e. in their mind if they were Israeli Jews they would definitely reassert Jewish rights on the Mount and they simply cannot comprehend why Israel is not doing that and thus they suspect hidden intentions, a conspiracy and “dark plans”.

It is of course true that Zionism and the State of Israel have prevailed due to behaving in a coolheaded and rational fashion. Israel did not establish the indigenous Israeli communities of Judea and Samaria for religious or sentimental reasons but this was part of redrawing the demographic map so as to allow incorporation of part or the entire Judea and Samaria depending on the eventual demographic situation. In either case would all indigenous Israeli communities become part of Israel as illustrated by the Kushner map. The Oslo Accords was not a foolish leftwing dive into the unknown but a carefully calculated Israeli strategic operation to establish a Palestinian autonomy for decades to come, albeit not permanently so. Similarly is Israeli policy on the Mount driven by no doubt predominantly secular, male Ashkenazi state strategists who believe it is in Israel’s interest to maintain the status quo.

They are of course right not to act out of nostalgia, sentimentality or religion in asserting a purely interest-based approach. However, the conclusion of the strategic calculus is fundamentally wrong. What would happen if Israel performed archaeological excavations and built synagogues on the Mount? There would be international protestations of course and some local stone-throwing but aside from that nothing, just the normal routine of the conflict. I challenge Israeli state strategists to mention one sovereign state that would wage religious war on Israel in response. Not even Iran would. Perhaps Gaza would but Hezbollah certainly would not without an OK from Tehran so that won’t happen. Muslim nations that maintain diplomatic ties with Israel do so out of their own interests and only for this reason. In any case, they maintain diplomatic relations with Israel despite believing that Israel will reassert Jewish rights on the Temple Mount. So they believe that this is only a matter of time anyway so they have already accepted this as a future reality although they are doing everything in their power – in their mind – “to prevent it”.

Israel is not part of Scandinavia but rather part and parcel of the Middle East and Islamdom and so while initially reasserting Jewish rights on the Mount would no doubt cause anger, this is bound to lead to respect for Jews and Israelis. Anyway, everyone is convinced that this will happen and Muslim countries are even so lining up to normalize relations with Netanyahu’s Israel. You may wonder why Muslim countries are more keen to normalize relations with the Netanyahu government than with the previous Bennett-Lapid government? The three extremist Religious-Zionist parties in the coalition government are surprisingly not seen in a negative light by Arab governments, rather they seem normal and honest in terms of regional honor culture. There is also the personal issue of Benjamin Netanyahu who is widely trusted and appreciated as a man of honor by Arab leaders. Furthermore, the previous government was not trusted because it included the Muslim Brotherhood as one of eight parties.

Am I accusing Arabs of fantasizing about Israel? Yes, but the West and pretty much everyone else is fantasizing about Israel. Everyone projects their own culture onto others in expecting others to act like themselves. This is universal.

Restoration of Jewish rights on the Temple Mount while respecting Muslim rights means performing archaeological excavations and building synagogues but certainly not building a Third Temple with animal sacrifice in the place of the magnificent Dome of the Rock. Nothing bad will happen despite the horror stories and fairy tales about religious war. If the Palestinians were capable of launching a religious war between Israel and Islamdom they would of course already have done so and it is not for lack of trying. The Jordanian monarchy has no interest in war with Israel (Jordan would promptly lose such a war). The Palestinian Authority is primarily interested in perpetuation of its own regime and therefore does not want an Intifada which would only bring disaster to the Palestinians themselves, just like the previous intifadas. 

Restoration of Jewish rights on the Temple Mount while respecting Muslim rights is a strategic imperative and will help bring victory in the conflict with the Palestinians. It is true that building a Third Temple would be even better from a strategic perspective but removing the Dome of the Rock would be unconscionable since this is a precious part of world heritage. It is also true that deporting the Palestinians from Judea and Samaria would be strategically preferable but that too is unconscionable unless it becomes necessary in order to prevent genocide against the Jews.

Published by Daniella Bartfeld

Daniella Bartfeld is the founding director of the Aliyah Organization

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