Developing a Complex Understanding of the Political Religious Conflicts over the Holy Land (2015 – ongoing)

Supported by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (EDA) and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Herbert C. Kelman Institute initiated a new project in 2015, “Developing a Complex Understanding of the Political Religious Conflicts over the Holy Land”. The Herbert KeIman Institute for Interactive Conflict Transformation supports existing groups of influential religious leaders in their work regarding the conflict over Jerusalem and the Holy Esplanade (Har Habyit/Haram al-Sharif).

Analysis of the Problem

The Holy Esplanade – Har HaBayit (The Temple Mount) to Jews and al-Haram al-Sharif (The Noble Sanctuary) to Muslims – has an outsized effect on the conflict. It is Judaism’s most important site and Islam’s third most important. According to some analysts the inability to agree over the future of the site – in particular Palestinian denial of the very historical existence of the Jewish Temple and Israeli demands to establish a synagogue on the esplanade – was the central reason for the collapse of the 2000 Camp David talks. The Esplanade is currently a site of increasing controversy, confrontation and violence, not least due to more frequent ascensions by religious Jews which are in turn a reaction to their sense of perceived threat to the esplanade’s future due to the Oslo process and to illicit transformation of subterranean spaces to mosques which harmed invaluable archaeologic artifacts. At the Holy Esplanade one witnesses a clash between at least four world views: Jewish non-liberal, Christian evangelist, Muslim non-liberal and secular-liberal. The secular world view sees the struggle over the site essentially as one of freedom of access and worship that has to be agreed upon between political leaders. The Muslim world view considers the site a primary sacred pilgrimage site which has to be managed exclusively by Muslims. The Religious Jewish world views can be roughly divided into three depending on the variety of ways in which religious Jews understand the role of the Temple Mount in the future messianic redemption: ultra orthodox Jews contend that the Temple should be built by God and that Jews should not ascend to the esplanade until the messiah’s arrival; most national religious Jews believe the Temple should be built only when the bulk of Jewish society is pious [religious] and would like Israel in the interim to assert its sovereignty over the site. Some of them therefore encourage ascension of religious Jews to the esplanade. A small yet occasionally vocal national religious group believes it is the tangible task of Jews today to build the Third Temple. Finally, some Christian Evangelicals would like Jews to establish the Third Temple as this is seen to be a necessary condition for the second coming of Christ.

The Project Objectives

The aim of the work is to create opportunities for religious political dialogue among Jews and Muslims in order to promote de-escalation and to discuss the meaning and significance of the esplanade for all parties. For the most part, religious dialogue about the esplanade has not been a part of the peace effort in the past since on the one hand the peace effort has been dominated by secular liberals who are not primarily concerned with this issue while, on the other, the traditional religious factions have refused to be involved.  The basis of our intervention are several existing intra-group dialogue processes. Our intention is to increase synergy between these efforts and potentially enable indirect and direct communication between them, towards constructive management of the site and, in the longer term, to contribute to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

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