The Palestinian Authority has removed a report from a government website claiming that Jerusalem's Western Wall isn't holy to Jews, officials said Wednesday, after it provoked furious reactions from the U.S. and Israel.
The essay, written by a top official in the Palestinian Information Ministry, has become the latest source of contention between the Israelis and Palestinians and highlighted the sensitivities over Jerusalem. Resolving the conflicting claims to the holy city is the most explosive issue in peace talks.
A senior Palestinian official denied the report was taken down because of pressure. Instead, he said it was done "because it does not reflect our position." He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
In the report, Deputy Information Minister Al-Mutawakil Taha claimed the Western Wall was not connected to the biblical Jewish Temples — contradicting centuries of archaeological evidence and one of Judaism's most fundamental principles.
In an interview with The Associated Press Wednesday, Taha stood by his claims, insisting they were backed up by his own independent research and two committees that looked into riots at the Western Wall when the British ruled what was then mandatory Palestine.
"I'm not against the Jews. But ... the research says it's for Muslims, not for Jews," he said.
The Western Wall is the holiest place where Jews can pray. It is a retaining wall of the compound where the biblical Temples stood 2,000 years ago. The Al-Aqsa compound, Islam's third-holiest site, is built atop its ruins.
The report, echoing similar claims by Palestinian leaders and religious authorities over the years, caused an uproar in Israel, with leaders saying that such sentiments prove the Palestinians are not prepared to reach peace with the Jewish state.
In a parliamentary speech Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the report was "a testing point" for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who also is known as Abu Mazen.
"I say to Abu Mazen: Condemn this phenomenon," he said. "Turn to your people and tell them: 'There is a Jewish people here. They have been living here for close to 4,000 years. We recognize this people. We recognize their historic connection to this land and this city."
The U.S. State Department on Tuesday called the report "factually incorrect, insensitive and highly provocative."
"We have repeatedly raised with the Palestinian Authority leadership the need to consistently combat all forms of delegitimization of Israel, including denying historic Jewish connections to the land," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters.
Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war. Palestinians claim east Jerusalem, including the Old City, which is home to the Western Wall, as well as other Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites, as the capital of their future state.
The two sides have never reached a formula on how they would share the holy sites in the walled Old City.
Palestinians have consistently claimed that Jews have no historical religious attachment to Jerusalem, in defiance of archaeological finds, in an attempt to counter Israel's claims to the city.
Israel's government does not deny Muslim claims to Jerusalem, but has tried to make it harder to hand over the eastern part of the city to Palestinians by annexing it and building Jewish neighborhoods there, home today to about 200,000 Israelis. Palestinians consider the neighborhoods to be illegal settlements.
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
- east Jerusalem
- The Palestinian Authority
- Jewish Temples