One of Israel's two chief rabbis said Wednesday he would not oppose a transfer of Jewish holy sites in the West Bank to Palestinian control, but stressed that Israel must "retain sovereignty" over the site in east Jerusalem where Solomon's temple once stood.
"Tombs and cemeteries are places for prayers. What matters in a religious site is not who owns the land, but that Jews should have access to it," Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, the rabbi of the oriental, or Sephardic, Jews in Israel, told public radio.
He cited the cases of the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, at the site known to the Arabs as the Ibrahimi Mosque, Rachel's tomb in Bethlehem, and Joseph's tomb in Nablus. All these sites in the West Bank are under the control of the Israeli army.
However, he said Israel "must retain total control and sovereignty over the Temple Mount," the Jewish name for the Compound of the Two Holy Mosques in the old city of Jerusalem, occupied and annexed by Israel in 1967.
"For Jews, the Temple Mount is the most sacred site, which must remain under the total control of the Israeli people," he said.
"But it is also a holy site for Muslims, which is why there must be a religious rather than a political solution maintaining the status quo," he added.
He said he had been consulted on the issue by General Yakov Orr, coordinator of military activities in the Palestinian territories, who is also a member of the Israeli delegation to the Camp David summit with the Palestinians, which opened Tuesday.
Orr went to see Bakshi-Doron and his Ashkenazi, or European Jewish, counterpart, Meir Lau, at the request of Prime Minister Ehud Barak on the eve of his departure for the summit.
The Jewish temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD leaving only the so-called Western Wall, which has become a place of pilgrimage for Jews.
The site, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, now houses the Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, and the Dome of the Rock.
After the June 1967 war, the compound remained under the authority of the Islamic Waqf, which looks after Muslim religious property, but Israeli police are present, and control access to the area.
Ultra nationalist Jewish groups are campaigning to drive the Muslims from the site and rebuild the Jewish temple there - OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AFP)
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