Earlier today, and immediately after UNESCO—the UN agency entrusted with promoting peace through cultural and educational exchanges—adopted a resolution that nullified any Jewish historical connection to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, Israeli officialdom reacted just as you would’ve expected. “With this absurd decision,” thundered prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “UNESCO has lost what little legitimacy it once had.”
It’s unclear who, at this point, still sees the UN and any of its branches as anything more than the world’s Donald Trump, all bluster and shady practices and all too ready to sidle up to whatever two-bit dictator looks at it twice. What’s more troubling is that in their condemnations, Israeli leaders are failing to acknowledge a much more painful truth: when it comes to recognizing Jewish ties to the Temple Mount, the Israeli government isn’t great either.
A very brief history lesson: after Israel reunited Jerusalem in the aftermath of its victory in the 1967 war, then prime minister Levi Eshkol signed a law designed to protect the holy sites from “anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings with regard to those places.” Then, in a stark measure of goodwill and respect, he handed control over the Temple Mount to the Islamic Waqf council, the Jordanian-appointed body that has served as the custodian of the Haram al-Sharif for centuries. The gesture also came with a concession, enforced with varying degrees of severity throughout the years, to keep the site, sacred to all three religions, open for prayer only to one: today, only Muslims can freely worship at the site where God is believed to have collected the dirt from which he made Adam, where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son, and where the two ancient Jewish temples once stood.
If Israel is seriously upset about UNESCO’s bigotry, then, it can always respond by reaffirming Judaism’s ties to the Temple Mount by once again allowing Jews to pray at this holiest of sites. Those who formerly objected to this measure by arguing that it would offend Muslim feelings and lead to some sort of conflagration now have proof that appeasement doesn’t seem to do the trick, either: you can keep the Temple Mount free of Jews and the Palestinians will still assert, with the UN’s sympathies, that Israel is a foreign and occupying force.
So why not experiment, then, with some justice, the only true foundation for real and long-lasting peace? Let’s try letting Jews — and everyone else — pray on the Temple Mount. There isn’t much left to lose.
Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.