Why is the Mughrabi Ramp a political issue?

In early September, the newspaper Haaretz published an article about the dismantling of a new Mughrabi ramp whose construction began in August. That ramp, like the existing one, was declared as a ‘temporary’ structure. Since the collapse of the prior Mughrabi ramp in 2004, the issue of constructing a new ramp has become politically sensitive. Israel claims to have a right and an obligation to build a new permanent ramp, while Jordan, in charge of the Muslim Waqf on the Temple Mount/ Haram al-Sharif, claims the ramp would harm the Muslim autonomy there.

The Mughrabi ramp is a wooden walkway built on stilts, which starts at the Mughrabi Gate and leads visitors to the Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif. The ramp is located on the western side of the holy compound, where the Mughrabi neighborhood once stood. Officially, the only entry for non-Muslims (tourists and Jewish Israelis) is via the Mughrabi ramp.

The Mughrabi ramp collapsed in 2004 following rain and snow storms. Immediately thereafter, a temporary wooden ramp was built to allow non-Muslims go to the Mount. Israeli authorities began to establish a permanent new ramp, and to that end they negotiated with the Muslim Waqf and the Jordanians. Jordan’s status vis-a-vis the Mount is anchored in the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan. The agreement determined that Jordan had formal priority on the Mount. Israel recognized that Jordan would be the senior Muslim authority on the Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif once a final settlement is achieved with the Palestinians.

In order to build a new ramp, Israel must coordinate with Jordan. In 2013 an agreement was signed between Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, highlighting their joint commitment to protecting Jerusalem and the holy places against “Israeli Judaization efforts”. The agreement recognizes the unique status of Jordan in Jerusalem’s holy sites.

From Israel’s standpoint, the body responsible for the establishment of the Mughrabi ramp is the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. The Foundation is a government body under the direct responsibility of the Prime Minister’s Office, and is managed by the Western Wall Rabbi. The involvement of government agencies and the high-level of oversight on the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, indicate the sensitivity at the Temple Mount area and the Prime Minister’s decision to be involved in operations around it.

The ramp’s construction is a politically charged issue because each side claims authority over it. Israel argues that because the ramp is located outside the Temple Mount, it should oversee the construction. Jordan argues that since the ramp leads to the Temple Mount, it should manage the works.

In 2011, UNESCO decided that all parties should be involved in the ramp’s design process, and that none should take any unilateral action that could affect the character of the site.[1]

After years of negotiations between the parties and the intervention of various countries such as the United States, Turkey and others, Israel and Jordan agreed on almost all issues related to the construction of a permanent ramp and its management. However, political tensions around Israeli aspirations to increase its presence on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, and mutual suspicion between Israelis and Palestinians, affect Jordan’s decisions and prevent a final agreement on the ramp’s construction. Any unilateral move is perceived as a violation of the agreements between the two countries. Nevertheless, Israel began constructing the infrastructure for the new ramp: From 2012 the Israeli Antiquities Authority has been conducting salvage excavations along the route of the new ramp and laying the foundation for the pillars on which it would be built.

As in many cases around the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, the issue of the ramp itself has become part of the struggle over ownership and sovereignty: of who has rights to the Old City. It seems that the solution for the ramp’s construction is part of maintaining the status quo on the Mount. As long as the Muslim Waqf feels that its position on the Haram al-Sharif is undermined, it would be difficult to present the construction of the ramp as an action that is not part of a specific political goal.

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[1]UNESCO, Executive Board 187 EX/Decisions, article 5, November 30, 2011

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