An excellent historical review, published by Daniel Pipes in 2001, has even more relevance today. The following are very brief excerpts only. Follow the link to the full review.
...An historical survey shows that the stature of the city, and the emotions surrounding it, inevitably rises for Muslims when Jerusalem has political significance. Conversely, when the utility of Jerusalem expires, so does its status and the passions about it. This pattern first emerged during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad in the early seventh century. Since then, it has been repeated on five occasions:
- in the late seventh century,
- in the twelfth-century Countercrusade,
- in the thirteenth-century Crusades,
- during the era of British rule (1917-48), and
- since Israel took the city in 1967.
Politics, not religious sensibility, has fueled the Muslim attachment to Jerusalem for nearly fourteen centuries; what the historian Bernard Wasserstein has written about the growth of Muslim feeling in the course of the Countercrusade applies through the centuries:
"often in the history of Jerusalem, heightened religious fervour may be explained in large part by political necessity."
This pattern has three main implications.
First, Jerusalem will never be more than a secondary city for Muslims;
"belief in the sanctity of Jerusalem," Sivan rightly concludes, "cannot be said to have been widely diffused nor deeply rooted in Islam."
Second, the Muslim interest lies not so much in controlling Jerusalem as it does in denying control over the city to anyone else.
Third, the Islamic connection to the city is weaker than the Jewish one because it arises as much from transitory and mundane considerations as from the immutable claims of faith.
Mecca, by contrast, is the eternal city of Islam, the place from which non-Muslims are strictly forbidden.
Very roughly speaking, what Jerusalem is to Jews, Mecca is to Muslims – a point made in the Qur'an itself (2:145) in recognizing that Muslims have one qibla and "the people of the Book" another one. The parallel was noted by medieval Muslims; the geographer Yaqut (1179-1229) wrote, for example, that
"Mecca is holy to Muslims and Jerusalem to the Jews."
In modern times, some scholars have come to the same conclusion:
"Jerusalem plays for the Jewish people the same role that Mecca has for Muslims," writes Abdul Hadi Palazzi, director of the Cultural Institute of the Italian Islamic Community.
The similarities are striking. Jews pray thrice daily to Jerusalem and Muslims five times to Mecca. Muslims see Mecca as the navel of the world, just as Jews see Jerusalem. Whereas Jews believe Abraham nearly sacrificed Ishmael's brother Isaac in Jerusalem, Muslims believe this episode took place in Mecca. The Ka'ba in Mecca has similar functions for Muslims as the Temple in Jerusalem for Jews (such as serving as a destination for pilgrimage). The Temple and Ka'ba are both said to be inimitable structures. The supplicant takes off his shoes and goes barefoot in both their precincts. Solomon's Temple was inaugurated on Yom Kippur, the tenth day of the year, and the Ka'ba receives its new cover also on the tenth day of each year. If Jerusalem is for Jews a place so holy that not just its soil but even its air is deemed sacred, Mecca is the place whose "very mention reverberates awe in Muslims' hearts," according to Abad Ahmad of the Islamic Society of Central Jersey.
This parallelism of Mecca and Jerusalem offers the basis of a solution, as Sheikh Palazzi wisely writes:
separation in directions of prayer is a mean to decrease possible rivalries in management of Holy Places. For those who receive from Allah the gift of equilibrium and the attitude to reconciliation, it should not be difficult to conclude that, as no one is willing to deny Muslims a complete sovereignty over Mecca, from an Islamic point of view - notwithstanding opposite, groundless propagandistic claims - there is not any sound theological reason to deny an equal right of Jews over Jerusalem.
To back up this view, Palazzi notes several striking and oft-neglected passages in the Qur'an. One of them (5:22-23) quotes Moses instructing the Jews to "enter the Holy Land (al-ard al-muqaddisa) which God has assigned unto you." Another verse (17:104) has God Himself making the same point: "We said to the Children of Israel: 'Dwell securely in the Land.'" Qur'an 2:145 states that the Jews "would not follow your qibla; nor are you going to follow their qibla," indicating a recognition of the Temple Mount as the Jews' direction of prayer.
"God himself is saying that Jerusalem is as important to Jews as Mecca is to Moslems," Palazzi concludes.
His analysis has a clear and sensible implication: just as Muslims rule an undivided Mecca, Jews should rule an undivided Jerusalem.