Quick, if you’re a settler-dominated government uninterested in sharing Jerusalem with the Palestinian people, what’s a good way to telegraph your position without raising a ruckus?
Well, one good way would be to turn over a sizable portion of Judaism’s holiest site to the management of a maximalist settler group — which is precisely what Israel’s government is about to do.
Haaretz reported on Monday that settlement organization Elad—City of David Foundation stands to be granted the management of the Western Wall’s southern section — not the section most people visit, but the part to the south of the rampart up to the Temple Mount itself, where the Jerusalem Archaeological Park/Davidson Center are located.
Elad is best known, perhaps, for its management of the City of David (Ir David) archeological excavations, which it has turned into a right-wing propaganda center, eliding Palestinian history in the city, ignoring findings that don’t support a Jewish-only narrative, and in the process of expanding its work, damaging (or simply claiming) the property of Palestinians living in the surrounding neighborhood, Silwan.
Elad is also known for its aggressive efforts to settle — or, in its own words, to Judaize — Silwan, a Palestinian village that got tacked on to the modern municipality of Jerusalem after the Six Day War in 1967, part of a massive annexation that engulfed 64 square kilometers of Palestinian lands and more than tripling Jerusalem in size.
As the North American rabbinic human rights organization Tru’ah notes: “The City of David remains the sole instance where a private political entity has administrative authority over a national park in Israel.” And as Haaretz recently reported, both Elad and Israel’s Parks Authority have defied a court order to tighten oversight of the private organization’s work at what is a public site.
This is not surprising, however, as Elad’s mission sits hand in glove with the larger government goal of tightening control over the entirety of 21st century Jerusalem, making the possibility of sharing the city with a future Palestinian state infeasible. Jerusalem-based archaeological NGO Emek Shaveh has found that Elad’s decisions about where and how to excavate in the area are rooted in political considerations about establishing an Israeli presence and staying one step ahead of the diplomatic process, with the understanding that “local and international public opinion will not create pressure against them.”
Which is where we circle back to Monday’s report. The Western Wall and Temple Mount form the single most sacred spot in the Jewish world, and also happen to be conterminous with Haram al-Sharif, The Noble Sanctuary — the third most holy site in all Islam, the single holiest Muslim site outside of Saudi Arabia.
Placing an aggressively ideological, anti-compromise organization such as Elad in control of any part of Jerusalem’s holy sites is a significant yet quiet shot across the bow of anyone who hopes to some day see a durable two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace.
It’s not the sort of thing that anyone in the White House is likely to notice. It’s not the sort of thing that deep-pocketed liberal Jews are likely to want to make a stink about. But it is exactly the sort of thing that reassures Israel’s right wing, while reminding the Palestinian people exactly where the Netanyahu government stands on Jerusalem.
And it’s not the place that John Kerry has been trying to reach.