Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has given final approval for a project that will, among other things, see the construction of an elevator at Me’aras Hamachpelah. Netanyahu made the announcement at an election event Sunday night in Kiryat Arba.
Earlier Sunday, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said that as far as he was concerned, the project had a green light. Speaking at the groundbreaking of a new neighborhood in Kiryat Arba, Bennett said that “two months ago I approved the plan for an elevator at Me’aras Hamachpelah. I can report today that the plans have been completed. This plan has been postponed for many years. I expect the prime minister and foreign minister to approve this as well. We are ending the long-standing discrimination, and now all people, disabled or not, will be able to visit the site.”
The government had been hoping to work out an arrangement with the Muslim Waqf on the project, but that proved to be impossible. The elevator is part of an overall renovation plan for the Me’aras Hamachpelah compound.
The plan is likely to entail the takeover of several lots that are currently controlled by the Chevron municipality. Work in the building of the me’arah itself may be more complicated, as it is officially controlled by the Waqf, according to the 1997 Chevron agreement. In July, the IDF Coordinator for relations with the Palestinian Authority demanded that the Chevron municipality give its permission to carry out the work; if it refused, the Coordinator warned, Israel would move forward with the work unilaterally.
Among the improvements to be made will be the long-discussed elevator to allow access by the disabled. Planning for that aspect of the work has already begun. A proposal to build an elevator was first set forth by Social Rights Minister Gila Gamliel in 2018. In a letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and then-Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Gamliel said that “it has been 50 years since Yehudah and Shomron were liberated, and the time has come to enable access to Me’aras Hamachpelah for all, including the disabled. About a million people visit the site each year, and the only access to the me’arah is via a stairway consisting of 10 steps – meaning that entry is effectively impossible for disabled visitors who do not have someone to assist them.”