Leading Palestinian figures extended an invitation to President Obama to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque during his March visit to Israel. The mosque sits on the Temple Mount, the site of both the first and second Jewish temples and the present day Dome of the Rock. The political leaders and religious clerics issued the invitation with several caveats, however. The symbolic significance of these demands remains unnoticed by much of the United States media. Yet any acquiescence by Obama will loudly announce that he opposes Israeli sovereignty over an undivided Jerusalem.
The Palestinian Media Center (PMC), which purports to relay the official position of the Palestinian Authority on various issues, reported in detail these demands. Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, head of the Supreme Islamic Council and a preacher at Al-Aqsa Mosque, demanded that the visit to the mosque be under the sovereignty of an “Islamic Arab” Palestine and under the auspices of the Islamic Waqf in Jerusalem. Rather than arrange the visit through the Israeli government, Sabri demanded that permission be extended by Palestinians directly to the American Consulate. He reiterated that sovereignty resides in the hands of “Muslims alone.”
The representative for the Palestinian Authority national forces in Jerusalem, Hatem Abdel Qader, expressed his desire that any visit by President Obama to the mosque must illustrate that Jerusalem is an “occupied city” and suggested that full sovereignty over Jerusalem belongs not to Israel. Qader welcomed a presidential visit to the mosque, so long as Obama refuses any Israeli involvement with the visit.
Notably, the rationale provided for Israeli exclusion did not focus solely on religion. Rather, a spokesperson stressed that “national” reasons require that non-Israeli entities manage both the process of entry into the mosque grounds and that only non-Israelis accompany the president on the visit.
As the Palestinian Authority moves closer to obtaining statehood status for the West Bank and State, symbolic statements by President Obama increase in importance. If the president does exclude Israeli involvement with a visit to Al-Aqsa Mosque, he will advance the agenda of extremists committed to denying Israel’s right to the undivided city of Jerusalem.
Keep in mind, that under Israeli control, the rights of Muslims, Christians, and Jews to worship at their respective holy sites have been protected. Prior to Israeli control, attempts at religious observance as a minority could be met with death. And even today, leading voices within the Palestinian Liberation Organization suggest that the Jewish people have no right to access the Wailing Wall.
Rather than submitting to the demands of Sheikh Sabri or simply remaining silent, the president should vocally recommit this nation to supporting Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.