President Barack Obama may have scrapped his "settlements first" Middle East peace approach, but he wasted no time in having Secretary of State Hillary Clinton give a speech on the administration's commitment to a two-state solution and dispatching special envoy George Mitchell back to the region.
But recent sentiments expressed by a respected Palestinian official, which were left unchallenged by his own peers, will be a deal killer. It was not about "the right of return," or Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. It was the pronouncement by Mutawakel Taha, the Palestinian Authority's deputy minister of information that "there is no archaeological evidence that the Temple Mount was built during the period of King Solomon … One can only conclude that Al-Buraq Wall is a Muslim wall and an integral part of the Aksa Mosque and Haram al-Sharif."
Taha explains that Jews never worshiped at the site until the Balfour Declaration of 1917. "This wall was never part of the so-called Temple Mount, but Muslim tolerance allowed the Jews to stand in front of it and weep over its destruction." Not one stone of the Western Wall belongs to the Temple of Solomon, he asserted.
Under pressure, the P.A. removed the article from its website, but the Palestinian Authority official — who the Forward reported is aligned with Fatah, not Hamas — is adamant: "I want to speak to all Jews and say — this wall is not for you; it's for the Muslims … ."
OK, Mr. Taha, you wanted world Jewry's attention, you got it. But for the record, here are the facts:
· The provenance of the Wall is well-established, one of the few things that Christians, Jews and Muslims agreed about for many centuries. In the fourth century, Christian works described the site as holy to the Jews, and the place to which they came (when allowed) to mourn the two Temples that had stood there. These references include Church Fathers Gregory of Nazianzus and Jerome. A synagogue stood on the site shortly before the Crusaders arrived.
· Suleiman the Magnificent granted Jews the right to worship there in the 16th century.
· Charles Wilson, the British explorer, wrote in 1881: "Jews may often be seen sitting for hours at the Wailing-place bent in sorrowful meditation over the history of their race, and repeating often times the words of the Seventy-ninth Psalm. On Fridays especially, Jews of both sexes, of all ages, and from all countries, assemble in large numbers to kiss the sacred stones and weep outside the precincts they may not enter."
· From 1924 to 1953, the Supreme Moslem Council annually published A Brief Guide to Al-Haram Al-Sharif, an English-language guide to the Temple Mount. It states: "Its identity with the site of Solomon's Temple is beyond dispute. This, too, is the spot according to the universal belief, on which (quoting Hebrew Scripture) 'David built there an altar unto the Lord."
· Today, visitors to the Western Wall, the last remnant of the Temple, and excavations in its immediate vicinity can easily tell the difference between the lowest rows of stones from Solomon's Temple of the 10th century BCE, and the Herodian stones above from the Second Temple period (the Temple of the New Testament).
In the face of all the evidence, why does the Palestinian Authority — buttressed by billions in aid and political support from the U.S. administration — continue to embrace and promote such hateful fantasies?
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is director of Interfaith Relations for the center.