U.S. Department of State Spokesman John Kirby has been forced to retract a comment he made on Wednesday that Israel had violated the status quo on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Kirby initially made the statement during his daily briefing on Wednesday, but his comments caused a diplomatic storm and led to him issuing a Twitter clarification in which he walked back his remark.
In the course of the briefing, Kirby was asked if the U.S. administration believed that visits by Israelis to the Temple Mount were considered as incitement. Kirby did not respond directly to the question but stated that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was interested in restoring the status quo on the Temple Mount.
“I’m not going to be able to characterize every single act with terminology. What the secretary has said and stands by is that we want to see the status quo restored, the status quo arrangement there on Haram al-Sharif and the Temple Mount,” referring to the Islamic and Jewish terms for the same site, which is holy to both religions.
When one reporter asked Kirby whether it was the administration’s view that the status quo had been broken, he replied, “Well, certainly, the status quo has not been observed, which has led to a lot of the violence.”
Kirby’s comments were seen as surprising, because since the current tensions over the Temple Mount surfaced about a month ago, the Obama administration has refrained from saying there had been a violation of the status quo there.
The site’s day-to-day administration is entrusted to the waqf, a Jordanian-affiliated Muslim religious trust, while Israel reserves the right to maintain order.
About a week ago, the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement following a conversation between the premier and Kerry, which said the U.S. secretary of state noted it was the administration’s position that Israel was maintaining the status quo on the Mount. However, the Palestinians – and to some extent the Jordanians – have insisted that the status quo has been violated by Israel.
Kirby’s initial statement appeared, in effect, to adopt the Palestinian stance that Israel had indeed violated the status quo, implying that Israel was also responsible for the recent wave of violence, which has centered, at least in part, on the status of the holy site.
Several hours later on Wednesday, following protests by several Israeli officials as well as Jordanian officials, Kirby issued the following statement on his Twitter feed: “Clarification from today’s briefing: I did not intend to suggest that status quo at Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif has been broken. We welcome both Israel’s & Jordan’s commitment to continued maintenance of status quo at Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.”