Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - In a development likely to intensify the debate surrounding the future of Jerusalem, Israel's chief rabbi Tuesday took a stand against the idea of dividing or sharing sovereignty over the city.
Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau said that it was unimaginable that any Israeli would consider the suggestion of a joint Israeli-Palestinian authority over Jerusalem.
"The connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem and its holy places existed many years before other religions came into the world," he said in a radio interview.
Lau was responding to reports emerging from Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Egypt that Israel had proposed sharing sovereignty with the PA over the Temple Mount and other holy sites in Jerusalem.
The Temple Mount, revered by Jews as the location of the Temple, and by Muslims because the third most important mosque in Islam stands there, has become the focal point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and major stumbling block in the path of a peace agreement.
Prime Minister Ehud Barak denied the reports, saying Israel would not sign away its sovereignty over the holy sites. But Israeli skeptics remember that Barak also vowed never to divide their capital, and is now reportedly ready to turn over the disputed eastern section to the PA.
Senior Palestinian negotiators said Tuesday the PA would not consider anything short of complete sovereignty over eastern Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.
In a message to Barak on Monday, Lau admitted that it had been an historic mistake for Israel to return the keys to the Temple Mount to the Muslim religious authorities, the Wakf, shortly after capturing the area during the 1967 Six Day War.
He said it was clear that the famous Israeli declaration, "The Temple Mount is in our hands," was not a reality today.
Israel captured the Temple Mount from the Jordanians in 1967, but the then defense minister, Moshe Dayan, ordered that the area should remain under the Muslim religious authorities, for fear the entire Muslim world would be inflamed against Israel.
Lau said Tuesday it had been an historic mistake over which future generations would weep. Although Jews from around the world come to pray at the Western Wall - part of an outer wall of the temple in the time of Jesus - the Mount itself is Judaism's holiest place.
The Muslim cleric in charge of the Wakf, Ikrima Sabri, says the entire area, including the Western Wall, belongs to Islam. He denies that there ever was a Temple there and says the Jews have no historic connection to Jerusalem.
In a congratulatory letter to President Bush this week, Lau reiterated his "unequivocal support" for Israel's maintaining complete control over the Temple Mount and all of Jerusalem.
"We will not return to the unacceptable situation where others control our access to our holiest places of worship," Lau said of the 19 years from 1948 to 1967, when the city was under Jordanian control. During that period, the Jordanians refused Jews access to their sacred sites and destroyed dozens of synagogues in the Old City.
"Compare that to the situation since 1967 when Israel regained control over all of Jerusalem," said Lau. "Israel has allowed freedom of religion and free access to all the holy sites of all religions."
"We will not tolerate having our city destroyed by being torn into two with barbed wire and checkpoints throughout," said Lau, a Holocaust survivor.
Proponents of the peace process have said the city can become the capital of two countries without actually being divided. But military experts say that would be a security nightmare.