The Prime Minister's Office issued a clarification Thursday that the ban on ministers and Knesset members from visiting the Temple Mount applies to Jewish and Arab representatives alike.
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On Wednesday, ministers, led by Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett, demanded the prime minister clarify why news reports, the first of which appeared in Haaretz, said his ban on ministers and parliamentarians from visiting the site applied to Jews only.
"The decision stems from the intention to cool the atmosphere around the Temple Mount," Netanyahu's office said Thursday, adding that in recent days, the prime minister has prevented Palestinian public figures from visiting the site, too.
A senior Israeli official said Thursday that Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah had planned on visiting the Temple Mount, but Netanyahu ordered the police to prevent him from arriving at the site out of a concern that his visit could fan the flames.
Earlier Thursday, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Habayit Yehudi), criticized Netanyahu's directive, saying, "It's completely unreasonable to prevent Jews from ascending the Temple Mount." He added that he heard about Netanyahu's order from the media and had not received any formal advanced notification about the directive from the prime minister or his aides.
Ariel is considered one of the most prominent ministers advocating for Jewish access to the Temple Mount. Last time Ariel visited the site, about three weeks ago, prompted angry responses in the Palestinian Authority and Jordanian government. Jordan also claimed his visit violated the agreement reached between Netanyahu and King Abdullah in November 2014.
Immigrant Absorption Minister and Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Minister Zeev Elkin (Likud) told Army Radio early Thursday morning that he understands the logic as to why MKs and ministers can't visit Temple Mount. However, he added that he intended to check with Netanyahu why the directive does not apply to Arab MKs on the Joint List.
"Nobody incites more over the Temple Mount than the MKs on the Joint List," Elkin said. "They rile up the crowd who clash with the police, and they are the first who should be banned from ascending the Temple Mount."
The Joint Arab List responded that party members would ignore Netanyahu's announcement and continue visiting the Al-Aqsa mosque as individuals and in groups.
"Netanyahu won't decide for us, the Arab Knesset members" whether or not to visit Al-Aqsa, the party announced. "The mosque is a part of Jerusalem, and we see Jerusalem as occupied territory that has to be liberated by asserting Palestinian sovereignty over it."
The party also stated that "it is our right and obligation to visit and pray in Al-Aqsa mosque, and Netanyahu is not the one who will permit or forbid that. We suggest the prime minister do something to end the occupation and to deter settlers instead of handing out orders to leaders of the Arab public."
MK Aymen Odeh, chairman of the Joint List, said, "Netanyahu goes around without deciding anything, lacking a position or a backbone. The Al-Aqsa compound is occupied territory, which according to the status quo is under administration of the king of Jordan and the Muslim Waqf. Netanyahu has no legal or moral authority to prevent Arab MKs from visiting the mosque. Netanyahu continues to be dragged by the settler leadership in the coalition and bringing us all down into a chasm."
Odeh added: Anyone with security fears cannot deal with focused management of the conflict and strive for a comprehensive deal and conduct real negotiations as well as an end to the occupation and establishing an independent Palestinian state.
MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union) said "Netanyahu was right to ban MKs and government ministers from visiting the Temple Mount. The increase in [Jewish] visits to this site during this time is irresponsible and would constitute a conscious attempt to ignite tensions in Israel and the region, which would involve the loss of human life at the price of a spectacle and nothing else. For now, it's good that the prime minister himself internalized that words have a price, and that it is his responsibility to lower the threat level and the flames."