There is no intention here to alter the status quo, neither at religious sites nor with prayer arrangements.
(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, 25 February 2010, speaking at the beginning of his interview on Channel 9 television, referred to the national heritage plan and the inclusion of the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb in it:
"It could be that some elements in the international system mistakenly think that this is a diplomatic decision, a political decision. In fact, it is neither a diplomatic decision nor a political decision. It will not change anything in this sense. It seeks to preserve heritage and this heritage has existed with us for close to 4,000 years. We are not determining anything new.
The patriarchs of the Jewish people, our forefathers, are buried there. This is an existing fact. We will not decide otherwise and it is absurd to think so. Neither are we overlooking the Islamic context there. We are simply seeing to it that there are proper conditions for Jewish and Muslim worshippers alike. This is important. There is an international desire to maintain heritage sites, to preserve them. But our intention is not to change them. Our intention is not to change the existing arrangements at all.
I think that the leading governments around the world will understand this very quickly because we are explaining it to them. I think that this issue needs to come off the agenda. Apparently, there has been a misunderstanding because there is no intention here – and no plan – to alter the status quo, neither at religious sites nor with prayer arrangements. We will maintain freedom of worship and the existing arrangements for Jewish and Muslim worshippers alike. What we will do is maintain and strength existing prayer arrangements.
We did this only now in coordination with the Islamic Waqf. They carried out some repair and maintenance work of the Islamic prayer sites. For example, they installed fans in the main prayer hall. They installed chandeliers. They brought in rugs. They repaired the floor in the entranceway to the prayer room. They repaired the roof and painted a mosque for women. These repairs were appropriate. They were done in coordination with us and we want to do the same maintenance and preservation work for Jewish worshippers.
The Tomb of the patriarchs is a prayer site that maintains an almost 4,000 year old heritage. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Patriarchs of the Jewish People, and Sarah, Rebecca and Leah, the Matriarchs, are buried there. We know that it is also a holy place for Muslims; we honor both. It is fitting that there be appropriate prayer arrangements. We are not changing them. We are not changing the status quo at the site and we will not, in any way, harm freedom of worship for Muslims, just as we will preserve freedom of worship for Jews. Therefore, in the best case, there has been a misunderstanding but I want to state things as clearly as possible: We will maintain the existing status quo."