The Jerusalem Post

Curious timing for a crisis with Jordan

Why is the safety status of the Old City’s Mugrabi Bridge popping up as an issue now?


This week, a number of voices, many of them linked to Israel’s former ruling party, the Likud, claimed that the Mugrabi Bridge, which links the Temple Mount to an area near the Western Wall and is used by non-Muslims to visit the Temple Mount, is in danger of collapse.

Former transporta­tion minister MK Miri Regev said “it is forbidden to wait another moment with the demolition of the bridge and the constructi­on of an appropriat­e replacemen­t.”

The concerns about the bridge ostensibly date from a month ago when an engineer’s report said that the wood the bridge was constructe­d with does not enable safe use of the bridge. This raises questions about why the previous government of Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t replace or reinforce the bridge recently, despite his being in office for a decade.

How did a bridge suddenly become unsafe around the same time Israel got a new government? Why is there now a new potential crisis at the sensitive holy site? Did the crisis emerge precisely when the Kingdom of Jordan and Israel are working to repair ties?

Jordan is sensitive to any changes to the status quo, and previous attempts to alter the bridge have met with protests and also conspiraci­es spreading about al-Aqsa being in danger. These kinds of conspiraci­es have led to conflict in the past, including the recent Gaza war.

So how did we get here?

IN 2011, a temporary structure, often called the Mugrabi Bridge after an early ramp and neighborho­od that once existed underneath the temporary bridge, was closed due to safety concerns.

At the time, reports said that “officials closed the Mugrabi Bridge on Sunday, three days before the municipali­ty deadline to close the ramp leading from the Western Wall Plaza to the Temple Mount.

“The Jerusalem city engineer, Shlomo Eshkol, has warned over the past year in a series of letters to the prime minister and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation – which oversees the area – that the temporary bridge is unsafe.”

Let’s recall what happened at the time, 10 years ago. “The municipali­ty originally set November 28, 2011, as the deadline to destroy the bridge, but... Netanyahu intervened to stop the demolition, worried about triggering riots across the Arab world.

“In the most recent letter, sent last week, the municipali­ty insisted the entrance must be closed to the public until a new bridge is built.”

Netanyahu chose to cancel the demolition of the bridge because of concerns in Egypt and Jordan. The Jerusalem Municipali­ty tried to close the structure on December 12.

Oddly, the issue then disappeare­d from the headlines. Somehow, the unsafe bridge continued to exist with some modificati­ons.

In 2014, a new report emerged. A new part of the bridge had been added. “Erected less than two weeks ago, the bridge had not officially been opened when... Netanyahu ordered it be dismantled after it became clear that the project was not approved by the relevant authoritie­s, and amid mounting Jordanian protests.”

Once again, the temporary bridge, erected

after the ramp collapsed partially in 2004, had become permanent, and any changes were seen as a “status quo” issue threatenin­g peace in the region.

It appears that in 2011 and 2014 the Netanyahu government chose to forgo changes in order to maintain calm. Now, suddenly, there are calls to remove the bridge by members of the same party that didn’t remove it for a decade. This despite the fact that it is well known that previous changes have always resulted in a crisis.

IS THIS controvers­y about the bridge or about creating a stumbling block for the new government in ties with Jordan?

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi has met his Israeli counterpar­t in what The Jordan Times calls a “semblance of normality.” There is a new deal to supply Jordan with water. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has been outspoken on the importance of ties with Jordan.

For Netanyahu, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was always a sour point. He ran into many controvers­ies with

the kingdom, dating back to his time in office in the 1990s. Netanyahu didn’t make progress on the plans to develop the Arava peace valley with Jordan, and Jordan harshly slammed Israel during the 25-year anniversar­y of the peace agreement between the countries, demanding Israel return lands that were part of the agreement. In 2017, an incident with an Israeli security guard in Jordan, in which two Jordanians were killed, led to another crisis. Most recently, Netanyahu canceled a short trip to the UAE on the eve of elections after Jordan apparently delayed approval of a flight path through its airspace. In addition Jordan’s crown prince canceled a trip to Jerusalem in March. Relations were at their lowest point in memory.

Netanyahu has slammed Jordan in recent days, critiquing the water deal and accusing Jordan of having ties to Iran. The insinuatio­n was that Jordan had transporte­d oil from Iraq to Egypt, and that somehow this helps Iran.

It is in this context that there are rising calls for the government to make changes to the Mugrabi Bridge. Any changes are likely to cause a crisis. Closing the bridge would anger some of the Jews who visit the Temple Mount weekly. It would also mean non-Muslims could not visit the historic area near the mosque and Dome of the Rock. Any changes to the bridge would lead to complaints from Jordan, unless there was coordinati­on.

There is no doubt the bridge needs to be safe, both for those who use it and because it stretches over a part of the women’s section of the Western Wall. There are many questions to be asked as to why this bridge issue was never responsibl­y addressed for more than a decade.

However, it appears convenient that suddenly those who were in office for many years and made no changes now want it closed, demolished, changed or removed.

LIKE MANY things that took place over the last decade in Israel where problems were managed, or what some call “mowing the grass” was done to postpone addressing major issues, the bridge is a symbol of how Jerusalem and Israel were managed. This crisis management meant postponing many major problems, ranging from dealing with Gaza’s constant crises to the issues facing Bedouin in the Negev, to ignoring the crowding at Meron that led to a disaster, and then not investigat­ing it.

The current government wants to address the issues, but stoking up issues like the Mugrabi Bridge appears to be a way to create a crisis with Jordan precisely when Jordan and Israel are keen on working together again.

Whether the kingdom might be interested in being flexible regarding the bridge might be addressed, but such status quo issues usually take time and are sensitive because of the position of the Palestinia­ns and the Wakf Islamic religious trust and other authoritie­s and stakeholde­rs.

King Abdullah of Jordan is meeting US President Joe Biden on July 19. Perhaps responsibl­e policies regarding the bridge will prevail.

 ?? (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90) ?? THE MUGRABI BRIDGE leading up to the Temple Mount compound.
(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90) THE MUGRABI BRIDGE leading up to the Temple Mount compound.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Israel