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How Jerusalem gained its status as a holy city

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For over 20 years now, the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians has been a tango: a step forward, then two backwards, to remain in a total freeze for the last two years. Negotiators came close to an agreement. Both sides compromised on water and security, electromagnetic frequencies, borders and even the right of return of Palestinian refugees. Until Jerusalem came on the table - the one issue without an acceptable, viable solution.

President Donald Trump's decision last month to recognise the city as the capital of the Jewish state and move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has been met with uproar across the Arab and Muslim world, much of which appears to have abated.

The debate focuses on one little mountain on the eastern rim of Jerusalem's Old City. Jews call it the Temple Mount, because it once housed the temples that were the national and religious centre of their people. In its midst is a rock Jews call the foundation stone which, according to their belief, was the first thing made by the act of creation, an eternal interface between Earth and the Heavens.

Incidentally, Muslims know this boulder all too well. It lies right under the Dome of the Rock, the oldest Islamic sacral structure in the world. They venerate it as the place from which Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven in his enigmatic night journey mentioned in the Quran.

Next to it, on the plot Muslims call "Al haram al sharif" - the Noble Sanctuary - stands Al-Aqsa, considered the third holiest mosque in the world.

For Jews, the Temple Mount is the very core of their existence. But Palestinians also claim their state would make no sense if its flag does not fly over the Haram. "Were it not for Al-Aqsa", one Palestinian negotiator said, "Arabs would not give a darn about us".

This small rock has become the greatest stumbling block for peace. How did it become so holy for Islam?

The Dome of the Rock, located in Jerusalem's Old City, in the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary or Al haram al Sharif, and to Jews as Temple Mount. PHOTO: REUTERS

The Arab Spring seems to have left many people in the Arab world exhausted. Not least Jerusalem's Palestinians, who make up 34 per cent of the city's 850,000 inhabitants. Even they, who would be most affected by any political change, have staged very few protests, resigning themselves to token demonstrations at certain hot spots around the Old City after Friday prayers.

According to Jewish belief, King David conquered the city around 1000BC and made it the capital of his kingdom, which for the first time united the 12 eternally squabbling Jewish tribes under one rule. David's son Solomon elevated the city from political to spiritual centre when he erected a temple here that would serve as the central place of........

© The Straits Times