In an article in the Saudi daily 'Okaz, journalist Ahmed Sayed 'Atif writes that the terms "holy land" and "blessed land" mentioned in the Quran refer to Mecca and not to Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa, Syria, Iraq or any other place, as claimed by various Quranic commentators. The controversy over the meaning of these terms, he says, stems from the fact that many commentators did not look for the answer in the Quran itself but rather relied on Biblical sources. He presents numerous Quranic verses to show that the "blessed land" is Mecca, and explains that this city is blessed not because it is wealthy or fertile but because of its unique spiritual status.
It should be mentioned that this Saudi article is not the first of its kind. On November 13, 2020, 'Okaz published an article which suggested that the Al-Aqsa mosque mentioned in the Quran may not be located in Jerusalem but rather in the Arabian Peninsula.
Ahmed Sayed 'Atif (Source: Sadacom.news, April 24, 2013)
The following are translated excerpts from 'Atif's article: 
"There are many opinions as to the location of the 'Holy Land.' Some claim it is Syria, or Jericho, or Jerusalem and part of Jordan, [and others claim that it[ is in Syria and Iraq or that it necessarily [extends] from the Euphrates in Iraq to Al-Arish in Egypt. These differences of opinion regarding the meaning of the terms 'Blessed Land' and 'Holy Land' are natural, for the proponents [of the different opinions] do not rely on one constant source. These claims originate in the Torah, and subsequent claims have been based upon them, to this day.
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"Perhaps the paradox is those various exegetes did not look for the meaning of the term 'Blessed Land' in the Quran itself, with the exception of [ninth century Persian scholar and Quranic exegete] Al-Tabari, who, quoting others, stated that only in verse [21:71] - 'Then We delivered him, along with Lot, to the land We had showered with blessings' - the term 'Blessed Land' refers to Mecca, and the evidence for this is in verse [3:96]: 'Indeed, the first House [of worship] established for mankind was that in Becca [i.e., Mecca] – [and it is] blessed.' However, neither Al-Tabari nor the others stuck to this opinion.
"We believe in the Quran, and [believe] it is a revelation from Allah and a text that predates the Arab books of history. Hence, [the Quran] is the first [text] we must search and investigate for the meaning of 'Blessed Land.' This is because the earth is Allah's, and it is He who grants the blessing and chooses the place he wishes to bless, who informs us which place he blessed and why. The Quran did not keep this information from us. It expresses it clearly and unequivocally in verses [3:96-97]: 'Indeed, the first House [of worship] established for mankind was that at Makkah - blessed and a guidance for the worlds. In it are clear signs [such as] the standing place of Abraham. And whoever enters it shall be safe. And [due] to Allah from the people is a pilgrimage to the House - for whoever is able to find thereto a way.' These verses emphasize to those who are divided on this topic, and to the unbelievers, that the first house [of worship] erected for the people is the one in Mecca. The house here is a mosque for all the people… The house in Mecca is blessed and it guides all the people on the straight path… The verse provides to those who are divided on this topic and to the unbelievers - to whom it is addressed - three proofs [that Mecca is indeed holy], and these are proofs that they recognize and do not deny: Mecca is the place of Abraham – the place where he resided, his home – and they know this; whoever enters it is safe, and they know this; and people make pilgrimage to it, and they know this [too].
"The blessing (or abundance) that characterizes this place [does not lie in] the trees or the fruits [that grow there] but in characteristics that it [alone] possesses and other places do not: [its status as a place of] pilgrimage, the fact that it is a mosque for all [Muslims], and the law of protection that applies [to anyone who enters] the compound of the holy mosque in Mecca…
"Furthermore, Allah also mentioned, in general terms, specific places on earth which He calls 'blessed,' [for example]: 'And We placed between them and the cities which We had blessed [many] visible cities [Quran 34:18]. It is also said, 'Then We delivered him, along with Lot, to the land We had showered with blessings [21:17]. And it is said: 'And to Solomon We subjected the raging winds, blowing by his command to the land We had showered with blessings [21:81]…' In addition, it is said: 'We made the oppressed people successors of the eastern and western lands, which We had showered with blessings' [7:137].
"So where are these blessed places, villages or land?! Apparently, most commentators and historians assumed that a 'blessed' land is necessarily one that has an abundance of trees and rivers. Drawing their interpretations from the people of the Torah [i.e., the Jews] and from their commentary on the [term] 'blessed land,' they said that [the verse 7:137] refers to Syria… and that verse [34:18]… refers to Syria [as well]. Others said [that 34:18 refers] to villages in the Sanaa [area in Yemen], or to Jerusalem, or to the Arab villages between [the city of] Medina and Syria… As for verse [21:81],… they said it refers to the land of Syria and Palestine… and regarding [verse 17:1] - 'the Farthest Mosque whose surroundings We have blessed' - they said it refers to Syria… and that the blessing refers to the [abundant] crops and fruit, or else to Jerusalem… or to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Palestine and its surroundings… According to the commentator Al-Qurtubi [1214-1273], the reference is to the righteous prophets who are buried around [Al-Aqsa], making it holy…
"This [blessed] place is mentioned again in various ways and many verses, [among them]: 'and this secure city' [95:3]' and 'My Lord, make this a city of security' [2:126]… It should be noted that the Quran does not mention the journeys and the movements of Abraham. It only says that he left the land of his people as a youth and that his name was Abraham [21:60]; that he moved to Mecca, where he built the holy house [the mosque] and watched over it, and that, in his old age, Allah informed him [that he would have a son,] Isaac, and housed him and his descendants there [in Mecca].
"The Quran, then, takes us to one blessed place [i.e. the holy compound in Mecca], in contrast to all the numerous conjectures of the commentators. Therefore, whenever the Quran mentions it with an unspecified pronoun - 'We blessed it' - or with a demonstrative - 'this secure land' - or with and adjective - 'the blessed place,' or 'the holy land' - it is referring solely to Mecca. Mecca will continue to be [holy and blessed], no matter how much it expands…"
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 9038 - Article In Saudi Daily: The Quranic Al-Aqsa May Not Be In Jerusalem At All, But In The Arabian Peninsula – November 17, 2020.
 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), December 25, 2020.