The 2015 Elections and the Political Struggle over the Temple Mount, Silwan and Jerusalem’s Old City

The next Knesset will be comprised of a right-wing and ultra-Orthodox majority. However, the weakening of far-right elements and their removal from the Likud list of MKs is of great importance to the political struggle over the Temple Mount and Jerusalem’s historic basin. On the one hand there are fewer Knesset supporters of the ‘Third Temple’, but on the other hand, Netanyahu will continue to promote the main projects in which he has been involved in Silwan and the Old City.

In the last Knesset, the main support for changing the status quo on the Temple Mount came from the Jewish Home and Likud parties. The most prominent supporter was MK Moshe Feiglin, who in the recent election was pushed into a marginal position in the Likud and will not serve in the next Knesset. The Jewish Home party’s most vociferous supporter regarding the Temple was former Housing Minister Uri Ariel. In the next Knesset Ariel will be almost the only representative of the Jewish Home party to try to promote more Jewish present on the mount. Because his position in the party was significantly weakened following the election results, his views and actions are likely to have less impact than before. Netanyahu’s control of the Likud may lead other voices, like that of MK Miri Regev, who struggled to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, to weaken and adapt themselves to government policy.

In the political struggle in the village of Silwan and the Old City, Benjamin Netanyahu is the central figure, as demonstrated by his conduct throughout his last two terms as prime minister. “The Western Wall Heritage Foundation”, the body responsible for the Mughrabi ramp construction (a program that is on hold) and the Western Wall tunnels, is a government body that belongs to the Prime Minister’s Office. The Fund’s main project is the Western Wall tunnel excavations under the Muslim Quarter. These tunnels have been dug throughout the last decade and are expected to continue to be excavated with the same momentum. Tunnel excavations are carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority and funded by Western Wall Heritage Foundation. The excavations are expanding the underground territory beneath the Muslim Quarter, known as “The Western Wall Tunnels,” and are directly managed by the Foundation. The tunnels currently end at Via Dolorosa Street.

In the village of Silwan Netanyahu openly supports the Kedem Center initiated by the Elad foundation. [1]In 2012, the Israeli government decided that the complex will include the “Shrine of the Bible.” It is assumed that Netanyahu will continue to support the building of the complex. Elad’s view that Israel should strengthen its ties with Silwan as the City of David is backed by the Israeli government in the past decade – and it seems that this trend will continue.

Netanyahu’s support for projects that deal with Jewish national heritage can be seen in decisions made in the last two governments. In 2012 it decided to invest hundreds of millions of shekels in tourist and archaeological development in Jerusalem. [2] Even before that, in 2010 Netanyahu initiated the National Heritage Sites project, including the investment of millions of shekels in antiquities sites in the West Bank and Jerusalem.[3]

In summary, while the extremist figures associated with the push for an undivided Jewish Jerusalem will not be part of the current Knesset, the Prime Minister’s office exerts the most influence on the Historic Basin. Based on his past deeds, Netanyahu will continue to support the Israeli development of Silwan and the Old City. The absence of extremist MKs who provoke the Muslim world by going to the Temple Mount could play into the hands of Netanyahu. For him, political calm in Jerusalem will only facilitate creating a new reality on the ground that will make it even more difficult to divide the city.

[1] Government Secretary announcement from May 20, 2012 (Heb)

[2] Government decision No. 4651, “Development of the City of Jerusalem, May 20, 2012.

[3]Y Mizrachi, Israel’s “National Heritage Sites” Project in the West Bank: Archeological importance and political significance, Emek Shaveh, June 2012

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