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
Classified By: Acting Principal Officer Thomas Duffy, per reasons 1.4 ( b) and (d)
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.