|07JERUSALEM2584||2007-12-18 10:21:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Consulate Jerusalem|
VZCZCXRO4306 PP RUEHROV DE RUEHJM #2584 3521021 ZNY CCCCC ZZH P 181021Z DEC 07 FM AMCONSUL JERUSALEM TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0048 INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY RHEHNSC/WHITE HOUSE NSC PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L JERUSALEM 002584
1. (C) Summary. The Director of the Waqf and Jerusalem's
Grand Mufti responding to Israeli press reports criticized
the unilateral nature of the GoI decision to renew Mughrabi
Gate excavations and said such action undermines Muslim and
Palestinian confidence that Israel will cooperate with the PA
post-Annapolis. The Mufti expressed concern that Israeli
excavations will disregard Muslim archeological finds.
Mordechai Levy, an advisor to Jerusalem's Mayor, said the
Israel Antiquities Authority has the legal right to remove
finds that date from 1700 or later, which could include
Ottoman and Palestinian remains. Plans for the proposed
design of the new Mughrabi Gate ramp are expected to be
posted for public review early in 2008. End summary.
MUSLIM LEADERS CONCERNED ABOUT UNILATERAL ISRAELI ACTION
2. (C) Director of the Jerusalem Waqf Azzam al-Khatib told
PolOff December 17 that Israel did not consult with the Waqf
or any Jordanian officials before deciding to resume
excavations under the walkway leading to the Mughrabi Gate at
the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Al-Khatib said Israel's
unilateral decision to renew excavations at the Mughrabi Gate
undermines Israeli-Muslim relations and reiterated that the
Waqf wants the new ramp to the Mughrabi Gate to follow the
former ramp's route.
3. (C) Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine Shaykh
Muhammad Ahmad Hussein asked PolOff December 17 why Israel
would decide to renew excavations in the post-Annapolis
environment. He said this decision undermines Palestinians'
trust and added that he expects the USG to pressure the GoI
to reconsider. The excavations, he said, must stop before
they destroy Muslim antiquities.
MUNICIPALITY SAYS IAA WORKING WITHIN ITS LEGAL BOUNDS
4. (C) Mordechai Levy, advisor to Jerusalem Mayor Uri
Lupolianski, told PolOff that the GoI, not the Municipality,
decided to resume work at the Mughrabi Gate. He said Israeli
law defines antiquities as pre-1700, and the Israel
Antiquities Authority (IAA) can remove anything from the site
that was constructed after 1700. (Note: That will include
Ottoman and Palestinian artifacts. End note.) Levy claimed
Ottoman ruins have no religious or historical significance,
and archeologists hope to find Omayyad ruins beneath them
once the dig resumes.
5. (C) Jerusalem attorney Danny Seidemann told PolOff
December 17 that the Regional Planning Council will post for
public review the proposed design for the new Mughrabi Gate
ramp around January 1 (Ref A). According to Seidemann, per
Israeli law, excavations can occur only after a design is
approved. Once the design is published, a 60 day period of
public review will begin, which will allow concerned parties
to suggest alternative designs.
6. (C) Comment: PolOff visited the site December 16 and 17
and observed no activity. The area has been covered by tarps
since spring. However, Palestinian contacts have reacted
strongly to the December 17 "Ha'Aretz" article announcing the
GoI decision to renew excavations and the subsequent
reporting in the Palestinian press on December 18. They
noted that this decision follows the issuance of a land
tender for residential units at Har Homa/Jabal Abu Ghneim,
and they charge the two decisions signal that Israel is
taking unilateral actions that pre-judge permanent status
negotiations and undermine confidence-building
post-Annapolis. End Comment.