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September 16, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8935

Saudi Journalist Calls To Internationalize Jerusalem Holy Sites

September 16, 2020
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 8935

Following the agreement to normalize relations between the UAE and Israel, Saudi journalist Fahed Ibrahim Al-Dughaither published an article in the 'Okaz daily in which he advocated placing the holy sites in Jerusalem under international oversight. The Arab calls to liberate Al-Aqsa are meaningless, he said, because, even if the Muslims recapture East Jerusalem, they will have to grant freedom of worship to the members of all faiths.

He therefore suggested forming an international body comprising representatives of the UN, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Vatican, and Israel, to maintain and administer the holy places in Jerusalem.

Al-Dughaither added that the only conditions the Arabs must set for peace and normalization with Israel, in addition to the establishment of bilateral relations, are access to the holy places in Jerusalem and the freedom of worship in them. All other issues, especially those related to land, are not the concern of the Arabs but are an exclusively Palestinian issue, he said.


Fahed Al-Dughaither (Source: Sabq.org)

The following are excerpts from his article:[1]

"I don't really understand the meaning of the term 'liberating Al-Aqsa,' which is constantly repeated on social media as a sign of a position that opposes any notion of peace with the State of Israel. I rule out the possibility that it means liberating the entire city of Jerusalem [i.e., both East and West Jerusalem], because that has not been an Arab demand since the Madrid [Conference] and the Oslo [Accords]. So [perhaps] it means recapturing [just] East Jerusalem? If this happened, [and East Jerusalem indeed] returned [to Muslim hands] under some circumstances… would it mean that Christians and Jews would be banned from performing their religious rituals in that part of the city? Of course not, for 'Umar bin Al-Khattab would not have [issued such a ban], as evident from the Pact of 'Umar,[2] and Salah Al-Din Al-Ayyoubi would not have done so either, as evident from the Treaty of Ramla.[3] 

"The discourse on 'liberating Al-Aqsa' boils down to determining who should manage these holy places. In other words, and in an attempt to overcome this administerial crisis, perhaps one day we will think outside the box, and there will be a call to establish an international body on behalf of the UN, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Vatican and Israel, with representatives of the three [monotheistic] religions. The sole duty [of this body], funded by the UN, would be to oversee these [holy] places, develop them, maintain them and protect those visiting them. This would be a way out of the whirlpool [of this tangled issue]...  

"This land was coveted by several empires from the dawn of their history, and had they not disappeared, we would have seen their peoples demanding to return to Palestine, as the Jews are doing today. It is also clear that, in each period, Palestine eventually fell to the strongest [player]. So Israel, which exists [there] today, is just another in a long series [of powers that ruled Jerusalem over the centuries]. Israel has existed for only 72 years, and it is likely to last for many more decades, depending on the changes and new world order, and also due to its military might.   

"This leads us to the conclusion that, for all the Arab and Muslim countries except the Palestinians, the most important condition that must be demanded in return for peace and normalization with Israel, in addition to peace [itself] and bilateral economic relations, is freedom of worship for [the followers of] all religions, and the freedom to visit the holy places and access them without constraint. All the other conditions pertaining to territory should remain a Palestinian affair, [for] the Arabs outside Palestine have no active role [in this matter] since the Palestinians agreed to negotiate [directly] with the Israelis." 

 

[1] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), August 23, 2020.

[2] According to Muslim tradition, the Covenant of 'Umar is an agreement signed by the Second Caliph 'Umar bin Al-Khattab and Patriarch Sophronius of Jerusalem following Jerusalem's surrender to the Muslims in 638 CE. The covenant sets out the relationship between the Muslim regime and its non-Muslim subjects in Jerusalem, who are considered dhimmis, that is, residents under the protection of the ruling regime.

[3] The Treaty of Ramla, or Treaty of Jaffa, was a truce signed in 1192 CE between the Muslim leader Salah Al-Din (Saladin) Al-'Ayyoubi and Richard the Lionheart, King of England, leader of the Third Crusade. It stipulated that Jerusalem, which had been conquered by Saladin in 1187, would remain under Muslim rule but would be open to Christian pilgrims.

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