BY MARCY OSTER
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s Defense Ministry approved plans to make the Cave of the Patriarchs handicap accessible without obtaining the agreement of the Hebron municipality, which is controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
The plan would violate several agreements between Israel and the Palestinians that make the Palestinian Authority the planning authority for the site.
The Hebron municipality and the Waqf, which oversees Muslim holy sites in Israel, object to the expropriation of Palestinian land for the project.
The site, holy to both Jews and Muslims, is accessible now only by its iconic stairs. The $1.4 million project includes an elevator, a path to reach the entrance from the parking area and a bridge connecting the elevator to the entrance.
“The time has come to move forward,” Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday. “We have green-lighted the elevator project to end the many years of discrimination at the site. Every person, irrespective of whether or not they are disabled, should have the opportunity to visit the tomb, which is an important Jewish heritage site.”
Bennett, the defense minister since November, will give up the position in the coming days when the new coalition government is scheduled to be sworn in.
The plan still needs the approval of the higher planning council of the military’s Civil Administration, which oversees civilian activity in the West Bank.