Netanyahu approves Sharansky's proposal for egalitarian prayer section at Western Wall

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given Jewish Agency chief Natan Sharansky approval to move ahead with his plan to set up a new space for egalitarian prayer services at the Western Wall, sources have told Haaretz.

Netanyahu asked Sharansky to meet with two of his senior aides – cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser and National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror – to draft a timetable for implementing the plan. Netanyahu and Sharansky held an informal discussion on the matter while they were visiting London last week to attend the funeral of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Netanyahu told Sharansky he liked the basic outline of the plan and that he was impressed with the overall positive reception it had received in the Jewish world.

If implemented, the Sharansky plan would wrest exclusive control of prayer at the Western Wall from the Orthodox establishment. The plan calls for extending the area designated for prayer at the wall's northern section to the southern section next to the Mugrabi Bridge, known as Robinson’s Arch.

According to the plan, this new section would serve worshippers seeking to take part in egalitarian prayers services and would be open around the clock, rather than just a few hours a day as is the case today. A plaza would be built to make the new area equal in size and height to the current prayer area, which would continue to be divided into a men’s and a women’s section.

Sharansky has recommended that the new area be supervised by a joint authority run by the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency.

Netanyahu had asked Sharansky to devise a plan for resolving the conflict over prayer at the wall, under pressure from world Jewish leaders outraged by the police crackdown in recent months against women praying with prayer shawls there. Virtually every month in the past six months, police have detained women participating in the monthly prayer service organized by Women of the Wall, a women’s prayer group.