These arguments were prompted by a series of high profile visits a number of senior clerics and lay people undertook recently, beginning with a Jordanian delegation (that included Yemeni Sheik Ali al-Jafri), followed by dozens of Egyptian Copts (despite official opposition from the Coptic Church), and the [Sunni] Mufti of Egypt, who broke with tradition to travel to the holy city – a trip that led to calls for his resignation.
Palestinian Awkaf [Religious Endowments] Minister for Mahmoud Habbash later announced that more Arab officials were planning to visit Jerusalem It is imperative that these disagreements, between those who see visiting Jerusalem while it is still under occupation as legitimizing the Israeli occupation, normalizing ties with Israel, and giving the impression that the occupation is open, tolerant, and somehow civilized on the one hand, and those seeing it as an expression of solidarity with the Arab inhabitants of the holy city, an assertion of its Arab, Muslim, and Christian identity, and a step designed to abort Israel's plans to turn it into its 'eternal and indivisible' capital.
In order to be able to take the correct position regarding this issue, the following points have to be considered:
-- Visiting Jerusalem and the entire occupied territories was taboo since Israel seized them in the six-day war of 1967 up to the signing of the  Camp David peace accords. During that period, boycotting and delegitimizing Israel, and fighting normalization with the Jewish state were among the Arab's most potent weapons in the struggle against it. The philosophy behind the boycott said that normalizing ties with a racist, colonialist, and occupying state would not encourage the Israelis to end the occupation because normalization would lead the Israelis to believe that they could take over Arab lands and nurture good ties with the Arab and Muslim worlds. Why would Israel end the occupation if it believed that it could achieve its goal of becoming a dominant state in the region in any case?
--After the signing of the Camp David accords, the Oslo agreements, and the  Israeli-Jordanian treaty of Wadi Araba, the delusion that peace had arrived (or was about to) spread throughout the region. Consequently, and in order to encourage and consolidate this delusional peace, relations must be normalized – on of the expressions of which was to visit Jerusalem. The idea was to encourage the Israelis to embrace peace by showing them that Arabs and Muslims recognize them and are prepared to normalize relations with their state – and that they no longer wish to drive them into the sea. But this delusion evaporated after the collapse of the peace process and after Israel continued with its policies of settlement, aggression, blockades, etc.
--The so-called 'peace process' has failed utterly, especially on the Palestinian track. It became painfully obvious that Israel was not interested in the concessions enshrined in the [2002/07] Arab Peace Initiative (recognition by 57 Arab and Muslim states, and normalizing ties, in exchange for withdrawal from the occupied territories). On the contrary, the Israelis saw those concessions as a sign of weakness. Their appetite was whetted for even more substantial concessions. But peace cannot be achieved by making concessions, only by creating a balance of power that can impose it. Nevertheless, numerous personalities, Arabs and non-Arabs, officials and ordinary people, have since paid visits to the occupied Palestinian territories under the excuse of solidarity with the Palestinian people and the PA to conceal their real motive: meeting with Israeli officials, building ties with Israel, and opening the door to future cooperation. These visits were driven either by dubious motives or by crass ignorance.
--Ironically, the current wave of visits – unprecedented even in the 'golden age' of the so-called 'peace' process – coincides with the momentous events of the Arab spring. The Arab Spring was expected to enhance Arab independence and sovereignty and end the state of subservience that characterized the Arab world for so long. So why are these visits taking place now? The answer could be because there is a race going on between the old regimes on the one hand and the forces of political Islam on the other; by encouraging such visits, the surviving ancient regimes could be sending messages (to the Israelis and the Americans) saying that they are still the more dependable parties than the Islamists, who have demonstrated remarkable flexibility and moderation in order to win American approval as the new rulers of the region.
-- Any visit to the occupied territories, especially if they include Jerusalem (which Israel annexed) cannot be undertaken under the supervision of the Jordanians (the guardian of the al-Aqsa Mosque, according to Wadi Araba). Contrary to what an adviser to the Egyptian Mufti recently asserted, such visits have to be arranged in consultation with (and the approval of) the Israelis – as an official Israeli spokesman made so emphatically clear recently.
-- Israel, which welcomes Arab Muslim and Christian visitors to Jerusalem, bans al-Aqsa preacher Sheik Ikrima Sabri and the mosque Sheik Ra’ed Salah from entering the holy mosque. It also banned Americans and Europeans from visiting the occupied territories to show solidarity with the Palestinians. The treatment meted out to activists of the 'welcome to Palestine' campaign recently shows the difference between showing solidarity with the jailer and with the victim.
--It is important to remember that what is required is to liberate – rather than visit – Jerusalem. This requires coming up with a new Palestinian national strategy capable of liberating the occupied territories including the holy city. Visits should be lauded or criticized according to whether they serve that objective or not. Otherwise, they would only serve to perpetuate the occupation, or even improve the quality of life under it. There is a big difference between ending the occupation and improving it.
The conclusion that can be drawn is that visits can be seen either as solidarity with the victims or recognition of the oppressor – according to the context, timing, and manner of each visit.
Arab Muslims and Christians (whether they are officials or ordinary people) wishing to visit the holy city should do so within the framework of campaigns of solidarity with the Palestinian people, which clearly reject normalization, occupation, and settlements, and assert the Palestinian and Arab identity of Jerusalem.
The occupation would naturally ban visits of solidarity, and welcome those calling for normalization.
One final point that must be made is that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians whether resident in the occupied territories or elsewhere, are banned from Jerusalem – including President Mahmud Abbas.
Why not debate this issue rather than encouraging Arabs and Muslims to visit Jerusalem while it still languishes under occupation? Why not make it the centerpiece of a struggle for enabling the Palestinians to visit Jerusalem by organizing mass demonstrations and campaigns of solidarity such that the holy city becomes the 'Tahrir Square' of Palestine.
It would be better for those who wish to express solidarity with Jerusalem and the Palestinian people, and those who wish to make a pilgrimage to Church of the Holy Sepulcher to donate the costs of their visits to support the steadfastness of the people of Jerusalem thus enabling them to remain in their homes and undermine Israel's plans to Judaize the holy city.
As for those Arab countries that decided to support the steadfastness of Jerusalem by donating paltry sums of money (most which has not been forthcoming anyway), they would not change these shameful positions unless the Palestinians (PA and people) put Jerusalem at the top of their list of priorities at all levels – especially as far as the PA's budget is concerned. Only if the Palestinians prioritize Jerusalem first would the Arab peoples begin pressuring their rulers into doing their duty towards Palestine and Jerusalem.
After the resounding collapse of the peace process, thanks to the widely skewed balance of power between the two protagonists, we are now in a no war, no peace situation. Under such circumstances, we are more in need than ever to boycott Israel and reject normalizing ties with it. In fact, we should be making moves to isolate Israel and impose sanctions designed to make the occupation too costly for the Israelis to tolerate – and not allow Israel to benefit from an easy, profitable, calm, 'five-star' occupation.