What just happened?
On Tuesday, President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the outlines of a proposal for Middle East peace. Although the Palestinian government has already rejected the plan, it includes an outline for how future peace plans might address access to Jerusalem, which contains holy sites of three world religions—Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
What is the plan’s proposal for Jerusalem and the holy sites?
The peace plan would put Israel in charge of both safeguarding Jerusalem’s holy sites and also guaranteeing freedom of worship for Jews, Christians, Muslims, and people of all other faiths.
Additionally, the status quo at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif would be preserved, Muslims would be welcome to peacefully visit the al-Aqsa Mosque, and the special and historic role of the King of Jordan with regard to the Muslim holy shrines in Jerusalem would be preserved.
Why is Jerusalem considered a holy site for Christians?
For Christians, the city is significant because it was the location of Jesus’s Last Supper; of his arrest, trial, and crucifixion; of his nearby burial; of his resurrection and post-resurrection appearances; and of his ascension and promise to return.
When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the early fourth century, religious institutions were established at important sites such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Mount of Olives.
Other holy sites important to various Christian traditions include Church of St. Anne, Via Dolorosa (Stations of the Cross), Church of Viri Galilaei, Church of St. Stephen, Dormition Abbey, Tomb of the Virgin Mary, Room of the Last Supper, Augusta Victoria Church of Ascension, Garden of Gethsemane, Church of Mary Magdalene, Dominus Flevit Church, Pater Noster Church, Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, Church of the Ascension, The Russian Church, and the Secours Catholique.
Why is Jerusalem considered a holy site for Jews?
For Jews, the city is home to Mount Moriah, the location where Abraham was called to sacrifice his son, Isaac, before God intervened. Mount Moriah was also the location where King Solomon built the First Temple, which was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. The Second Temple was built atop the same mountain and stood until it was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. Many Jews believe the Dome of the Rock is the site of the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies, located within the Temple Mount, is the most sacred site in Judaism.
The Kotel, or Western Wall, is a remnant of the retaining wall of the mount from the Holy Temple. As Erica Chernofsky notes, “Jews believe that this was the location of the foundation stone from which the world was created, and where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac.”
Other holy sites of importance to the Jewish tradition in the area include the “House of Abraham,” Mount Scopus, Hurva Synagogue, Tomb of Absalom, Tomb of Zechariah, Second Temple Pilgrimage Road, Tomb of the Prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, Gihon Spring, City of David, Mount of Olives, Sambuski Jewish Cemetery, and the Pool of Siloam.
Why is Jerusalem considered a holy site for Muslims?
In Islam, the Dome of the Rock is where Muslims believe Muhammad ascended to heaven after being transported from Mecca to the location where the Al-Aqsa Mosque now stands.
In early Islam, when Muhammad had taken his followers from Mecca to Medina, he established Jerusalem as the direction of Islamic prayer (the first Qiblah) before later changing the direction of prayer to Mecca. The Dome of the Rock is the third holiest site for Muslims, after the cities of Mecca and Medina.
Who is currently responsible for protecting these holy sites?
A war between the newly created State of Israel and surrounding Arab nations broke out in 1948. At the conclusion, a line was drawn dividing Jerusalem between Jews and Arabs. Between 1949 and 1967, Israel controlled the western part of Jerusalem, while Jordan took the eastern part, including the old walled city containing important Jewish, Muslim, and Christian holy sites.
In 1967, after the Six-Day War, Israel took control over all of Jerusalem. Since then, Israel has assumed primary responsibility for protecting all of the city’s holy sites.
The new peace plan would leave this status quo in place. As the plan says, “Given this commendable record for more than half a century, as well as the extreme sensitivity regarding some of Jerusalem’s holy sites, we believe that this practice should remain, and that all of Jerusalem’s holy sites should be subject to the same governance regimes that exist today. In particular the status quo at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif should continue uninterrupted.”
Additionally, the plan states, “We believe that returning to a divided Jerusalem, and in particular having two separate security forces in one of the most sensitive areas on earth, would be a grave mistake.”
Even if Trump’s plan is rejected, Israel is unlikely to ever agree to return to a divided Jerusalem or allow another nation to control the security of the holy sites.