Tag Archives: West Bank

Palestinian statehood bid fails at UN Security Council as US, Australia vote against

The UN Security Council has failed to adopt the Arab coalition’s bid calling for the creation of a Palestinian state and an end to Israeli “occupation”. The veto power US and Australia voted against the move with 5 abstentions.The draft resolution gathered only 8 votes in favour, so it was automatically defeated. The US however still used its veto power and voted against the resolution. Another veto power state, the UK, along with Lithuania, Nigeria, Korea and Rwanda have abstained from the vote.

“This resolution sets the stage for more division, not for compromise,” said US Ambassador Samantha Power, calling the draft a “staged confrontation.”

“The United kingdom supports much of the content of the draft resolution. It is therefore with deep regret that we abstained from it,” said UK ambassador to the UN, Mark Lyall Grant. “We are disappointed that the normal and necessary negotiation did not take place on this occasion.”

However, Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin said that Moscow “cannot share the objections of those who believe that the draft resolution was undermining the prospects of the negotiating process.”

“Unfortunately last year revealed how this process has gone into a blind alley, with its monopolization by the United States and their pullback from the Quartet [US, EU, UN and Russia]. We believe this to be a strategic mistake,” said Churkin.

“This draft reflects just demands of Arab states, including the Palestinian people, and is in accord with the relevant UN resolutions, the ‘land for peace’ principle, the Arab peace initiative and middle-Eastern peace roadmap. And is also in accord with China’s consistent position. We express deep regret over the failure of the draft resolution to be adopted,” said Liu Jieyi, China’s permanent representative to the United Nations.

Israeli authorities said they are “satisfied” with the failure of the Palestinian statehood bid at UN Security Council.

An official bid for statehood was submitted to the Council Tuesday by a Jordan-led Arab coalition. The bid featured a revised draft resolution of a similar proposal submitted earlier this month. Delegates voted on the measure Tuesday afternoon.

Highly opposed by the US and Israel, the first version of the draft resolution was submitted “in blue” to the UN Security Council last Wednesday. The Council includes five permanent members who hold veto power and ten additional members who serve two-year terms.

The resolution gives 12 months for a “just, lasting and comprehensive peaceful solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which it regards as the creation of a “sovereign and viable” Palestinian state based on 1967 borders, as well as the withdrawal of all Israeli forces from the occupied territory by 2017.

Its text had already seen several amendments that concern East Jerusalem as capital of the future state of Palestine, Israeli settlement building, and Palestinian refugees’ right of return, Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee member Abu Yousef told Asharq Al-Awsatnewspaper.

According to the current draft, Jerusalem is regarded as the capital of both Israel and Palestine, but the role of East Jerusalem in a future Palestinian state is not specified. “International legitimacy is our ceiling on this issue, and we cannot drop below this ceiling,” Yousef told the paper.

“I think there is very little doubt that any resolution in the Security Council that actually created a Palestinian state or called for real statehood would be vetoed,” US activist and journalist Phyllis Bennis told RT. “I think there is a big question whether the drafts that are now circulating actually do that. The French amendments in particular significantly weaken the idea that this is something that would actually create the Palestinian state.”

Bennis explained that “there is no consequence named. The resolution is not taken under either Chapter 6 or Chapter 7, which are the coercive chapters of the UN charter.” These chapters imply the use of military force and putting pressure against the state, such as sanctions.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Tuesday his administration would“no longer deal”with Israel in case of the resolution’s failure. “If the Arab-Palestinian initiative submitted to the Security Council to put an end to [Israeli] occupation doesn’t pass, we will be forced to take the necessary political and legal decisions,”the Algerian APS news agency quoted Abbas as saying.

Last Thursday, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called a UN bid for Palestinian statehood an “act of aggression.”

“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is adopting measures whose sole aim is to attack Israel, with no benefit for the Palestinians,” Lieberman said in a statement.

This summer, tensions in Jerusalem and the West Bank escalated, leading to the 50-day conflict between the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinians. Operation Protective Edge claimed over 2,200 lives – most of them Gaza civilians.

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Former Israeli PM Olmert sentenced to six years in jail for corruption

Israel's former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the Tel Aviv District Court in Israel, Tuesday, May 13, 2014.

Israel’s former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the Tel Aviv District Court in Israel, Tuesday, May 13, 2014.

TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israel’s ex-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was sentenced to six years in jail on Tuesday for taking bribes in a massive real estate deal, a crime the judge said was akin to treason.

The first criminal conviction of a former Israeli head of government all but ended speculation that Olmert – a centrist credited internationally with working towards a peace settlement with the Palestinians – might return to political life.

He had denied any wrongdoing in the property deal that took place while he was in his previous post of Jerusalem mayor.

“A public servant who takes bribes is akin to a traitor,” said Judge David Rozen of the Tel Aviv District Court.

“(Olmert) is a criminal who devoted most of his time to praise-worthy public service. (But) he also lined his own pockets,” he said in passing sentence.

Rozen ordered Olmert to report to prison on September 1, effectively giving his lawyers time to lodge what they said would be an appeal to the Supreme Court and a request that he remain free until it rules.

Two years ago, the veteran politician was acquitted of most of the major charges brought against him in separate cases involving his links to a U.S. businessman.

Those corruption allegations forced Olmert’s resignation as prime minister in 2008, and his acquittal had appeared to position him for a possible political comeback.

But in the new corruption trial, Rozen found Olmert guilty on March 31 of two bribery charges and said he accepted 500,000 shekels ($144,000) from developers of the Holyland apartment building complex in Jerusalem and 60,000 shekels in a separate real estate project.

On Tuesday, the judge granted the prosecution’s request for a six-year jail term.


Olmert has made several criticisms of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s policies toward the Palestinians, fuelling talk about his future political ambitions.

But in sentencing Olmert, the judge said his crimes entailed “moral turpitude”, which under Israeli law would preclude him from running for any public office for seven years after finishing his jail term.

A lawyer by profession, Olmert began his political career in the 1970s as a legislator who targeted organized crime in Israel.

He served as mayor of Jerusalem from 1993 to 2003 and as prime minister from 2006 to 2009, staying in office in a caretaker capacity until after an election that brought right-winger Netanyahu to power.

As prime minister, Olmert waged war against militants in Lebanon in 2006 and the Gaza Strip in 2008.

He claimed significant progress in talks with the Palestinians aimed at securing a final peace deal, offering an Israeli withdrawal from much of the occupied West Bank. But no agreement was reached.

After a three-year break, U.S.-brokered negotiations resumed in July, but they were frozen last month by Netanyahu after President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestine Liberation Organization signed a reconciliation deal with Hamas, an Islamist group that advocates Israel’s destruction.

Palestinians blamed Netanyahu for the collapse, citing Israeli settlement-building and his failure to carry out a pledged prisoner release.

Olmert was among 13 defendants in the Holyland case, which revolved around the construction of a hulking, hilltop housing project widely regarded as Jerusalem’s worst eyesore.

Sentences handed down on Tuesday against six of the other accused ranged from three to seven years.

In 2010, a former Israeli president, Moshe Katsav, was convicted on rape charges. He is serving a seven-year sentence.


President George W. Bush exchanges handshakes ...

President George W. Bush exchanges handshakes with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel during their meeting Tuesday, May 23, 2006, in the Oval Office. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Hamas or Israel? Netanyahu says Palestinian Authority must choose

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas must choose either peace with Israel or an alliance with Hamas, but he cannot have both, Israel’s PM has said. His comments come after the Palestinian Authority restarted talks on a unity government with Hamas.

During a meeting with Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said if the Palestinian Authority united with Hamas it would bring an end to the US-sponsored peace talks.

“Instead of moving into peace with Israel, he’s moving into peace with Hamas,” Netanyahu said. “He has to choose: Does he want peace with Hamas or peace with Israel? You can have one but not the other. I hope he chooses peace; so far he hasn’t done so.”

Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman echoed Netanyahu’s sentiments and said signing an agreement with Hamas was equivalent to “signing the termination of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

Furthermore Netanyahu said that the Authority continues to demand “additional conditions,” knowing that Israel cannot accept them. On Tuesday, President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated the conditions that Israel needs to fulfill for the continuation of peace talks.

He called for the establishment of borders between Israel and Palestine, the release of a fourth group of Palestinian prisoners and a halt to the construction of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The Palestinian Authority has been pushing for these conditions since the restart in negotiations with Israel following a three-year hiatus last July.

Abbas also threatened to dissolve the Palestinian Authority, forcing Israel to take on the burden of governing the region, if bilateral talks fail.

“If the negotiations stop, it’s the Israeli government that will bear the responsibility for the economic situation and the paying of the salaries of (Palestinian) employees, workers and farmers, for health and for education just as it did before the establishment of the Authority,” he told reporters Tuesday.

The Palestinian Authority revived talks with Hamas on Tuesday and agreed to form a government of national unity within the “next few weeks,” Palestinian officials told AFP.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority now face an April 29 deadline to resolve their differences and make headway with bilateral talks before Washington withdraws its support.

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Hamas, Islamic Jihad praise West Bank terror attack

Militants say attack that killed one Israeli and injured two others was a response to ‘Israeli crimes’

Palestinian militant organizations Hamas and Islamic Jihad praised a shooting attack on Israeli cars near the southern West Bank city of Hebron on Monday, which left one dead and two others wounded.

Stopping short of claiming responsibility for the shooting, the groups linked the attack to recent unrest in the flashpoint Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem’s Old City.

“We in Hamas welcome the shooting action in the Hebron area, during which shots were fired at several settlers, causing the death of one and wounding of others,” said Hamas spokesman Husam Badran. “We see this action as a natural response to the crimes of the occupation [Israel] against the rights of our people and the repeated assaults on the al-Aqsa Mosque and our prisoners jailed in Israel.”

Islamic Jihad released a similar statement, hailing the attack and linking it to “settlers appropriating the blessed Al-Aqsa mosque.”

The attack took place as the seven-day Jewish Passover holiday began.

“Fire was opened at Israeli civilian vehicles on Route 35, near Hebron, and we’re conducting widespread searches for the perpetrators… An Israeli civilian was killed in the attack,” an Israel Defense Forces spokesperson said.

Israel’s Army Radio radio said the victim was a man, and that his wife and one of their children were those hurt.

A separate army statement said two other Israelis were wounded.

The flashpoint city of Hebron is home to nearly 200,000 Palestinians. Additionally, there are some 80 settler homes in the center of town housing about 700 Jews who live under Israeli army protection.

In September, an Israeli soldier was shot dead by a suspected Palestinian gunman in the center of Hebron during the week-long Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

Temple Mount clashes

Tensions were running high earlier in the week in Jerusalem, after Israeli police arrested five people after Palestinians clashed with security forces at the Temple Mount compound on Sunday.

Police said “stones and Molotov cocktails” were thrown at officers, who responded using stun grenades and entered the compound. An AFP journalist said Hamas members were among the protesters.

The compound, in the walled Old City, houses the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosques, and is the third most sacred site in Islam.

It is also the holiest place in Judaism, venerated as the site where King Herod’s temple stood before it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

Clashes frequently break out there between Palestinians and Israeli security forces. Muslims are intensely sensitive to any perceived threat to the status of the compound and many believe Jews are determined to build a new temple on the wide esplanade. Jews are not allowed to pray on the Temple Mount, but often try to enter the compound.


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Abbas applies to 15 UN bodies in pursuit of further recognition for Palestine

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday that the Palestinians are immediately applying for admittance to 15 UN agencies and conventions after Israel failed to release a fourth batch of prisoners in March.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) leader held an emergency meeting in Ramallah late Tuesday, where he signed a document to join 15 UN agencies and international organizations in a televised ceremony.

Abbas said he made the decision after Israel delayed a fourth release of Palestinian prisoners, which had been scheduled for March 29.

“We have nothing against American efforts,” he said, stressing that Israel is procrastinating.

“There was a commitment to a fourth prisoner release by March 29, since then there have been various promises but no results. This despite our leadership’s agreement to refrain from going to the UN for nine months, all in order to secure the release of prisoners,” he said.

Abbas stated that if the prisoners are not released, he will commit the Palestinian Authority to joining 63 international institutions, adding that he has the unanimous backing of the PA leadership.

The move could derail faltering US-mediated peace talks with Israel.

US Secretary of State John Kerry was due to fly to Ramallah for talks to try and extend the three-way negotiations until 2015. However, a US official has said the trip will no longer be taking place.

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians resumed last July. In turn, Abbas said he would suspend attempts to join UN agencies, while Israel promised to release 104 Palestinian prisoners in four groups.

Israel has not yet commented on the matter, but it views the move by Abbas as an attempt to avoid further peace talks.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry was close to a deal aimed at rescuing the faltering talks. His formula involved the release of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard in return for freeing hundreds of Palestinians held by Israel.

The deal would also have involved a commitment from Israel to show “great restraint” in the occupied West Bank from building further settlements, but would not have included a complete freeze on settlement building.

The US has been pushing hard to keep the negotiations afloat past the end of the April deadline. The inclusion of Pollard in the deal has been viewed as surprising and a reflection of American desperation to keep the talks moving forward.

Pollard was arrested in 1985 and sentenced to life imprisonment in the US for spying for Israel. He is up for parole in November 2015.

The Palestinians have given a cool response to the US proposals, saying they need a complete halt to settlement construction and that 1,000 prisoners of their own choosing must be freed.

The prisoner release is a difficult political step for Israel, with far-right coalition partners angry at the idea of freeing terrorists who have committed lethal attacks.

But in Palestine, freeing inmates helps increase support for Abbas from popular Islamist groups who are opposed to negotiating with Israel.

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Turkey replaces Iran as primary funding source for Hamas

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ismail Haniyeh

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ismail Haniyeh

TEL AVIV — Israel’s intelligence community has determined that Turkey became the lead financier of Hamas.

Israeli sources said Turkey replaced Iran as the leading financial backer of Hamas since 2012.

The sources said the government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has overseen the transfer of up to $250 million a year to Hamas, particularly the Islamic regime in the Gaza Strip.

“The money is channeled mostly through private sources, but with full coordination with Erdogan and his aides,” a source said.

The sources said Turkey has coordinated the cash transfers with another ally of Hamas. They said Erdogan was working with Qatar, which has been hosting the Hamas leadership since its expulsion from Syria in late 2011.

Turkey has been deemed the only NATO member to recognize Hamas. The sources said Ankara has hosted a Hamas presence, led by Salah Al Arouri, that facilitates operations and cash transfers, mostly to the West Bank.

In 2012, Qatar pledged $400 million to the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip. But the sources said most of the money failed to arrive because of Doha’s crisis with the new military-backed regime in Cairo.

The sources said Israel has urged NATO members, particularly the United States, to stop Turkish funding of Hamas. They said the Turkish support was also undermining the Palestinian Authority, which directly controls about half of the West Bank.

Turkey was also said to have provided training to Hamas security forces. They said the Turkish training, provided by non-government elements aligned with Erdogan, was touted as efforts to enhance order in the Gaza Strip.

via Turkey replaces Iran as primary funding source for Hamas | World Tribune.

The Middle East’s Snowstorm, Viewed From Space

Heavy rain and snow hit the region—from Lebanon down to Egypt.

We’ve seen the amazing photos of the uncharacteristically early and intense snowstorm that blanketed the Middle East last week (and if you haven’t, head on over to In Focus), but sometimes you just can’t beat the view from 440 miles above Earth’s surface. On Monday, NASA released the image below, taken by Terra, a more than 11,000-pound satellite roughly the size of a small school bus.

The satellite, the agency notes, took the image of the snow on Sunday, after clouds over the region dissipated. The “snow is confined to higher elevations in Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel and the West Bank, and Jordan,” NASA writes, though some “lower-elevation desert regions in Syria are also snowy.” Lower elevations near the coast have instead received heavy rain, resulting in deadly flooding. “The floods are not visible at this scale, but tan and green plumes of sediment are visible along the Mediterranean Sea coast,” the agency adds.

A zoomed-out map, showing more of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Mediterranean Sea, gives you a sense of just how far the wintery weather reached:

via The Middle East’s Snowstorm, Viewed From Space – Uri Friedman – The Atlantic.

‘US security plan included IDF troops on West Bank highway’ | The Times of Israel

The Palestinian negotiating team rejected an American peace plan which would involve Israeli military presence along the Jordan Valley highway, located five kilometers (three miles) from the Jordanian border, after the establishment of a future Palestinian state.

Contrary to earlier reports, the proposed final-status arrangement would see IDF control of a broad corridor in the Jordan Valley — not just a minimal stationing of Israeli soldiers along the border — for the first 10 years after the signing of a peace deal, Channel 10 News reported Tuesday.

According to the TV report, the plan formulated by retired US general John Allen and presented to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a recent visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry, ensured a more significant Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley than previously reported. Earlier reports suggested that Allen’s plan stationed IDF troops on the Jordanian border, but Channel 10 cited “sources knowledgeable with the negotiations” saying it entailed an IDF presence along Route 90, the major north-south artery five kilometers west of the frontier.

Last week, the Palestinians said they rejected any proposal that didn’t entail the removal of all IDF soldiers from a future Palestinian state.

A senior Palestinian official was quoted saying that after Kerry pitched the proposal, the meeting between the Secretary of State and Abbas turned to “worse than bad.”

The presence of Israeli soldiers in the Jordan valley in a final agreement is a point of contention between Netanyahu and his chief negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.

According to a September report in Israeli daily Maariv, Livni supports the introduction of international forces to the Jordan Valley, similar to the expanded role UNIFIL received in southern Lebanon under Security Council resolution 1701, which ended the Second Lebanon War in 2006, and which Livni was appointed by the government to oversee.

Netanyahu, however, adamantly opposes international forces, insisting on an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley even within the framework of a Palestinian state.

The prime minister recently ordered the government to begin construction on a major upgrade of the existing security fence along the Jordanian border, including the section of the border inside the West Bank.

Abbas, who vehemently rejects Netanyahu’s demands, had reportedly turned down Kerry’s offer, and said that Israeli presence in the Jordanian Valley would undermine the sovereignty of a future Palestinian state.

Concerned that a final status agreement may not be possible by the May target date the two sides accepted when they resumed talks in August, Kerry’s recent visit was aimed at pushing forward a framework accord that would contain the principles of a comprehensive pact, but not specific details.

If an outline were achieved, the negotiations could be extended beyond the nine-month timeline originally set by Kerry.

US officials, who spoke to Associated Press reporters aboard Kerry’s plane on condition of anonymity, stressed that an agreement on all issues by May is the US’s number one goal for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

But, should that prove unworkable, they said a framework agreement would buy time for additional negotiations.

A framework accord, the officials said, would be a “logical step” on the path to a final status agreement.

‘US security plan included IDF troops on West Bank highway’ | The Times of Israel.

Obama plan gives Palestinians joint control of Jordan Valley ‘crossing points’ | World Tribune

JERUSALEM — The United States wants Israel to grant the
Palestinians joint control over the border with Jordan.

Officials said the administration of President Barack Obama has
submitted a multi-stage security plan that would give the Palestinians
control over the entire West Bank. They said some areas, particularly the
border with Jordan would be administered with the Israel Army.


“The Americans are proposing joint control over the crossing points [into Jordan],” Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon said.

The plan was formally relayed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Dec. 5 during the visit of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry demanded an immediate discussion of the plan, authored by U.S. security coordinator Gen. John Allen.

“President Obama has designated him [Allen] to play a very special role in assessing the potential threats to Israel, to the region and ensuring that the security arrangements that we might contemplate in the context of this process, will provide for greater security for Israel,” Kerry said.

Officials said the U.S. plan proposes foreign monitors to replace
Israel’s military presence in the West Bank. They said Allen envisions the use of U.S.-financed Iron Dome batteries to protect Israel from Palestinian rocket attacks.

“From the Israeli point of view, there will not be any Palestinian
presence at the crossing points,” Dannon said. “An Israeli civilian and
military presence in the Jordan Valley is essential.”

Netanyahu, who met Kerry three times in 36 hours, has refrained from
commenting on the Allen plan, drafts of which were shown to Israel over the
last three months. Until recently, the prime minister vowed that Israel
would not abandon the Jordan Valley.

The Allen plan was said to have been drafted with the help of 160
officials from the Defense Department and other U.S. agencies. On Dec. 7,
Obama said the plan concluded that Israel would be secure with a Palestinian
state in the West Bank and a Hamas-ruled state in the Gaza Strip.

“This transition period requires some restraint on the part of the
Palestinians as well,” Obama said. “They don’t get everything they want on day one.”

Obama plan gives Palestinians joint control of Jordan Valley ‘crossing points’ | World Tribune.

Sacred Shrines Become ‘Ticking Time Bomb’

The supreme leader of the Palestinian Muslims and guardian of Islam’s most sacred shrine in the Old City of Jerusalem has warned of an uprising and regional war if Jews attempt to take greater control of the al Aqsa Mosque complex.

The warning came amid advancing efforts in the Israeli parliament to try to take administrative control of the sacred Islamic site which Jews also lay claim to as it sits on the remains of their Second Temple.

For now “sovereignty” of the Haram al Sharif, as the complex is traditionally known, lies with Jordan.

But several Knesset members, led by deputy speaker Moshe Feiglin, a member of the Likud Party, are pressing for greater access to Jews for prayer on the site and administrative control of it.

“It is the hard core of our identity … those places that represent the basis for our existence here altogether. Should we insist on [access to] these places or not?” Mr Feiglin told Sky News.

“Because if we cannot insist on our legitimacy on our basic rights to pray in the most holiest place for the Jews in the land of Israel –  under Israeli sovereignty in the middle of Jerusalem – then we’re losing our legitimacy not just in Jerusalem, in Tel Aviv, but everywhere else.”

The Knesset member is a forceful rejectionist of talks with the Palestinians aimed at establishing an independent state on the West Bank and in Gaza.

He believes that Israel is a threat to itself by ceding territory it captured in 1967 and has occupied since then. On the issue of what Jews call the Temple Mount, he is equally unbending.

“I don’t need to prove anything, history says it all. Any honest person who learned a bit of history knows the truth – Jerusalem belongs to the Jews and to the Jews only, that’s a fact. And by the way the Temple Mount never really interested Muslims before the Israelis came back.”

The Mohammed Hussein, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, issued a stark warning against any attempts to replace the Muslim administration of the Haram al Shari/Temple Mount in an exclusive interview with Sky News.

“If the Israelis come here it will be more than an intifada,” he said.

What do you mean more than an intifada?

“The whole region will be engulfed by war,” the Grand Mufti insisted.

Such threats are not idle.

In 2000, Ariel Sharon triggered the Second or “al Aqsa” Intifada which led to the deaths of 4,000 people and many more wounded over the next half decade by insisting on his right to visit the shrine.

He did so at a time of heightened tension when 10 years of talks aimed at ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza appeared to Palestinians to be going nowhere – and when they were also frustrated at the ineptitude and corruption of their own leadership.

Today, peace talks are going nowhere. The Palestinians have been letting Jewish settlements chew into their lands on the West Bank. Their leadership remains corrupt and incompetent – and are increasingly being seen as collaborators.

The tinder box that Mr Sharon, then leader of the Israeli opposition, lit in 2000 is just as dry now.

“It’s a huge and dangerous issue – taking the place from Muslims where they believe they have the right to pray is very dangerous,” Grand Mufti Hussein said.

Jews are banned from praying on the holy site by the Israeli police, although the courts have found that they should be able to exercise this right.

They are also forbidden, when they do visit, from removing so much as a leaf or a grain of soil.

Sky News joined a small group who were escorted by an Israeli policeman, who monitored their progress on a pre-set route around the outer edge of the 35-acre complex.

They prayed by talking to themselves as they walked, or by pretending to be in conversations and instead reciting invocations.

They were led by Rabbi Yitzchak Reuven, assistant director of The Temple Institute which is dedicated to restoring the temple to its third incarnation and is collecting the sacred vessels that one day it hopes will be used there.

A model of the Third Temple has pride of place in the Temple Institute Museum just 100 yards from the Western Wall – all that remains of the Second Temple since its destruction by Rome in 70AD.

Rabbi Reuven said: “It’s not a fantasy at all because we have the instructions of what needs to be done, we have the information, we have the technology to achieve all these things.

“In terms of arriving at the moment that’s a historical process, we don’t expect a metaphysical change in the world, we don’t expect a divine intervention that’s going to set things right.”

His ambition may have a purely theological intent, but it also poses an explosive political reality.

He is sanguine.

“We’re hoping by increasing awareness we will be closer to achieving the dream of the Jewish people and one that we have for the entire world because as Isaiah says this shall be a house of prayer for all nations.”

Sacred Shrines Become ‘Ticking Time Bomb’.