Under the proposal, the area now known as Robinson’s Arch on the southern end of the Wall will be greatly expanded to create a prayer space roughly equivalent to the existing men’s and women’s sections. Egalitarian prayer is currently permitted at the Arch, which is an archaeological site, but that prayer is only available at limited times and with an entrance fee. The expectation is that the enlarged space would be free and open around the clock, as the Kotel is now, but that could not be confirmed.
The Forward has a breathless exclusive report written by its editor, Jane Eisner, that claims that Natan Sharansky's solution to the Women of the Wall/egalitarian prayer at the Kotel problem is to "expand the Western Wall plaza." Sharansky is set to propose this solution to American diaspora leaders today when he meets with them under the umbrella of the Jewish Federation of North America.
How will this expansion take place?
Under the proposal, sources said, the area now known as Robinson’s Arch on the southern end of the Wall will be greatly expanded to create a prayer space roughly equivalent to the existing men’s and women’s sections. Egalitarian prayer is currently permitted at the Arch, which is an archaeological site, but that prayer is only available at limited times and with an entrance fee. The expectation is that the enlarged space would be free and open around the clock, as the Kotel is now, but that could not be confirmed.
The plan also calls for the plaza surrounding the Wall to expand, so that visitors approaching the site in the Old City could clearly chose between praying at the egalitarian section, or the existing sections reserved only for men and for women. Still under discussion is governance of the new prayer area, but several sources said that they thought it would be run by something other than the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, the ultra-Orthodox organization that currently controls the Kotel.
In other words, Sharansky's proposal is pretty much what the High Court of justice intructed the government to do years ago. But the government, of course, did nothing in otder to avoid angering what was then their haredi allies (or potential allies).
There are two major problems here.
First of all, most of the groups upset with the haredi dominance of the Kotel do not want to pray someplace else – even if it is newly renamed as part of the Kotel. For hundreds fo years, Jews have prayed in the small area of the western retaining wall of the Temple Mount compound known as the Kotel, the Western Wall and the Wailing Wall – not at other exposed sections of that retaining wall or the other three retaining walls that hold up the Temple Mount. So calling Robinson's Arch "the Kotel" won't satisfy them.
Secondly, the ramp and stairs leading up to the Temple Mount bisect the wall's face, cutting of the are known as the Kotel from the remaining southern section of the western retaining wall – Robinson's Arch. To make Sharansky's plan work, the ramp and stairs would have to be removed entirely and that entrance to the Temple Mount closed, or they would need to be rebuilt in such a way that people can comfortably walk underneath them. The Waqf, the authority that runs the mosques on the Temple Mount will almost certainly fight either move.
So what Sharansky is about to do is in effect push the problem off on the Waqf.
The Waqf's objections will almost certainly be joined by objections from Israel's security establishment, which will probably cause the plan to go nowhere even if Women of the Wall and other groups support it. And if the proposal is ever brought to the High Court of Justice, chances are it will block the government from altering the ramp and stairs – meaning the "egalitarian section" of the Kotel will be cut off from the actual Kotel proper.
Sharansky's proposal is also marked by its very clear refusal to remove the Kotel's haredi rabbi, Shmuel Rabinovitch and replace him with a moderate Zionist Orthodox rabbi and/or a committee of secular, non-Orthodox, and Orthodox and haredi Jews to administer the site. In other words, Sharnsky is leaving the problem in place. So, not only will Women of the Wall and your cousin Jimmy's bar mitzvah be shunted off to an area out of sight, out of hearing and out of mind of the haredim who dominate the Kotel, but he haredi rabbi who has done the most to inflame non-Orthodox Jews will remain in power there with the state's blessing.
It is this kind of manipulation Sharansky has become known for.
Too bad the Forward doesn't know it.