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Sharansky proposes converting an old archaeological dig south of the Wall to a new enclosure which would be connected to the current prayer plazas but where men and women would be allowed to mix and worship freely.
“There has been no archeological activity there in a long time, so my recommendation is to regard the entire expanse as a place for Jews to pray in,” Sharansky told the Ynet news site.
The plan would not entail structural damage around al Aqsa, Islam’s third-holiest shrine, Sharansky said. Palestinian fears of Israeli incursions there have sparked violence in the past.
Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its capital, a claim that is not recognised internationally. Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of state they seek to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Sharansky, who heads the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency for Israel, said he presented the plan to Jewish leaders of the various denominations in Israel and the United States, and to Israeli cabinet ministers.
“Everyone has their misgivings but they all understand that the situation where the Western Wall is a place of division must end, and that it must be rebuilt as a unifying place,” he said.
Peggy Cidor, a member of the Women of the Wall’s board of directors, said the plan “sounds very, very encouraging”.
“This situation, where every month we see one, two or three women being detained by police (at the Wall), could not go on,” she told Israel’s Army Radio. “That was clear to everyone.”