(CNSNews.com) – Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said Wednesday he found “distasteful” Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s invoking of the Bible to highlight the longstanding Jewish claim to Jerusalem.
The veteran P.A. official made the comment after Netanyahu noted during a special parliamentary session marking “Jerusalem Day” that the words “Jerusalem” and “Zion” appeared in the Old Testament, the Jewish Tanakh, 850 times.
“Jerusalem” was mentioned 142 times in the New Testament, and not once in the Koran, although a later interpretation of the Islamic text, centuries after Mohammed, included one mention, Netanyahu said.
Reacting to the comments, Erekat told Reuters later, “I find it very distasteful, this use of religion to incite hatred and fear. East Jerusalem is an occupied Palestinian town, and East Jerusalem cannot continue to be occupied if there is to be peace.”
Divided before June 1967, with the west under Israeli administration and Jordan holding the eastern sections, Jerusalem was unified under Israeli control during the 1967 Six Day War, an event Israel celebrates each year as “Jerusalem Day.”
Israeli governments, left and right, maintain that the city will remain Israel’s “eternal, undivided” capital; the P.A. wants Jerusalem, or at least the eastern part of the city, to be the capital of a future Palestinian state, a stance supported by much of the international community.
Jerusalem arguably has become the most contentious issue in the conflict, and at the heart of the dispute lies the small platform known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif (“noble sanctuary”).
Mount Moriah is the location where, as the Bible recounts in 2 Chronicles 3, Solomon built a Temple some 3,000 years ago. A second Temple was built on the site later – the one in which according to the New Testament Jesus taught – but it was razed by the Romans in 70 AD.
The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism, although the closest most Jews get to it is the adjacent retaining Western Wall.
Muslims conquered Jerusalem in the 7th century, and the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosques were subsequently built on the site. The latter is revered by Muslims as the third holiest site in Islam, a status based on the belief that Mohammed rode on his winged steed, al-Buraq, from Arabia to “the farthest mosque” en route to heaven. Although religious scholars do not all agree on the matter, the “farthest mosque” is widely held by Muslims to refer to Jerusalem.
When Israel asserted sovereignty over the Temple Mount in 1967, it agreed to cede day-to-day supervision of the area to an Islamic body called the Waqf, which later came under P.A. control.
In his comments to lawmakers Wednesday, Netanyahu said, “It is not my intention to detract from the bond other peoples have with Jerusalem. However, I am challenging the attempts to detract from, distort or erase our unique bond with Jerusalem.”
P.A. leaders and Muslim clerics for years have publicly disputed Jewish historical and religious claims to the city, and especially to the Temple Mount, even as they accuse Israel of trying to “judaize” Jerusalem.
The dispute over who controls the Temple Mount reportedly played a key part in the collapse in 2000 of the Israeli-Palestinian peace summit at Camp David, hosted by the Clinton administration.
Then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made an unprecedented offer to the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip, around 95 percent of the West Bank, and parts of Jerusalem. The Temple Mount would remain under Israeli sovereignty, but the Palestinians would keep “custodianship.” The P.A. leader Yasser Arafat refused, and the marathon talks ended in failure.
In an interview with al-Jazeera television in March 2009, Erekat – the lead P.A. negotiator at Camp David – recalled that President Clinton had told Arafat he would be the first president of a Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as capital, but that he should recognize the Jewish historical link to the Temple Mount.
“We want you, as a religious man, to acknowledge that the Temple of Solomon is located underneath the Haram Al-Sharif,” Erekat quoted Clinton as telling Arafat, according to a translation of the interview, provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute.
Erekat continued: “Yasser Arafat said to Clinton defiantly: ‘I will not be a traitor. Someone will come to liberate it after 10, 50, or 100 years. Jerusalem will be nothing but the capital of the Palestinian state, and there is nothing underneath or above the Haram Al-Sharif except for Allah.”
According to published reports from the time, Erekat himself had surprised Clinton by saying at Camp David, “I don’t believe there was a Temple on top of the Haram. I really don’t.”