In a meeting with Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit, who heads the committee appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to negotiate with the Women of the Wall, members of the organization's management further demanded that until the establishment of planned site, called "Ezrat Israel," they would be allowed to hold their traditional monthly prayer at the existing plaza – including reading from a Torah scroll, which they are banned from doing today.
The list of the preconditions submitted by the Women of the Wall also includes a demand that the egalitarian site will be open without interruptions, will contain at least 500 people, will be in physical contact with the Western Wall itself and its height will be similar to that of the existing plaza.
They are also demanding that both sites will have one free entrance, without the need to coordinate one's arrival in advance.
According to the women's demand, the body running the site will include members "with the relevant interest and education, who are interested in the existence of a pluralistic prayer site," and half of it will comprise of women and one-third of the Women of the Wall association.
The same body will also be in charge of the existing site's upper plaza and keep it "national and open to all." The authorities of the Western Wall rabbi and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation will be restricted, therefore, to the separated prayer plaza only.
"There will be no restrictions on holding mixed events at the upper plaza of the Western Wall," the women stated in the demands.
Some members quit
Women of the Wall Chairwoman Anat Hoffman said that the organization's dramatic decision to abandon its 25-year struggle and enter negotiations for a compromise was preceded by harsh discussions in the group's management, and even caused some members to quit as they refused to give up the demand to pray according to their custom at the existing women's section.
Hofmann said, however, that she believed the courage and daring required for this change in direction and partnership in the process led by the government were as big as what had been required for them for a quarter of a century, when they demanded to fulfill their right for freedom of religion even at the price of persecution and arrests.
"The conditions we are setting are in the sense of a revolution for the entire Jewish people," she noted. "Only if construction is completed in this spirit, and includes all our demands, it will serve as a breakthrough in the battle for equality in praying at the Western Wall, and we will agree to pray there.
According to Hoffman, although some of the members refused to participate in the negotiations, she views the fact that most of the organization's women – Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and unidentified – nearly reached the finishing line united as a "miracle."
"We are a strong enough organization to demand that the whole world changes – and we will be willing to change too," Hoffman concluded.
'Kotel' to be included in egalitarian site's name?
The Women of the Wall further demanded as part of their preconditions for a compromise that "the State – through the Education Ministry, the Tourism Ministry and other relevant bodies – will direct to 'Ezrat Israel' visitors from abroad, school tours, IDF solders' tours, official ceremonies, etc. Officials visits from abroad, which include a tour of the Holy Basin, will stop at 'Ezrat Israel' as well."
The women of the Wall are demanding equal treatment from the State towards the new site in any official reference, and want the word "Kotel" to be included in its name.
The organization also demanded that the State "will take all measures at its disposal to turn 'Ezrat Israel' into a well-known and recognized site, and turn the prayer there into a respectable experience and an acceptable and desirable norm."
In addition, the women's organization asked to "allow the entry of motorized wheelchairs on Shabbat and Jewish holidays. A sign about the Kotel's liberation by the paratroopers will be fixed at the Western Wall, and the Mandelblit Committee will take it upon itself to deal with the activity of the Western Wall rabbi and haredi leaders organizing protests against the Women of the Wall and prevent it, starting now."
3 months after legal precedent
About three weeks ago, Ynet reported about the liberal group's agreement in principle to a compromise which will see its members move their monthly prayer quorums from the Western Wall plaza to the nearby Robinson's Arch compound.
According to the apparent agreement, the current women's and men's sections are the only places where the "site's custom" (in its conservative interpretation) and the separation between the sexes will be maintained.
The upper compound will be used for official state ceremonies (like the swearing in of IDF soldiers and Jewish Agency receptions for new immigrants) in a mixed format, and at Robinson's Arch (the site adjacent to the Western Wall from its southern side) a plaza will be designated for egalitarian prayer.
This is the first time in its 25 years of activity that the liberal Jewish group agrees in principle to give up on praying at the main compound in exchange for full equality at an alternative site – just several months after the Jerusalem District Court delivered an unprecedented ruling that the woman may practice all their customs at the existing women's section.
Another factor which affected the decision greatly was heavy pressure exerted in recent weeks by Reform and Conservative Jews in the United States on their representatives in Israel to accept the compromise, following understandings they had reached with Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, another official tasked by Prime Minister Netanyahu with handling the crisis.
The opening of the new prayer compound for both men and women, which was initiated by Minister Naftali Bennett, contributed to the move too. The District Court ruling which allowed the Women of the Wall to observe their customs at the main plaza was based on the judge's conviction that the State had failed to provide them with a suitable alternative prayer site. Now that such a site has been established, the group members feared the High Court of Justice would overturn the District Court's decision – another reason to strive for a compromise.