Abbas Resisting U.S. Pressure to Help Defuse Temple Mount Tensions

In bid to calm tensions, Netanyahu spoke with Jordan’s Abdullah for a second time since the crisis erupted. Palestinian official: Abbas rejected a meeting with Trump envoy Greenblatt

Barak Ravid
Jack Khoury
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Israeli security forces stand by on guard as Palestinian Muslim worshippers gather to pray in the old city of Jerusalem on July 26, 2017, as a tense standoff is underway between Israel and Muslim worshippers at the city's Al-Aqsa mosque compound.
Israeli security forces stand by on guard as Palestinian Muslim worshippers gather to pray in the old city of Jerusalem on July 26, 2017, as a tense standoff is underway between Israel and Muslim worsCredit: AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP
Barak Ravid
Jack Khoury

In an attempt to prevent violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank ahead of Muslim prayers this Friday, the U.S. and Jordan are pressuring Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to calm tensions.

A source briefed on the de-escalation efforts, who requested to stay anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue, told Haaretz that senior officials in U.S. President Donald Trump's administration demanded Abbas stop incitement regarding the Temple Mount and end calls for protests.

According to the source, the U.S. administration made it clear to the Palestinian leadership that Israel had taken a lull in the process of removing the metal detectors and cameras placed at the entrance to the Temple Mount.

A senior Palestinian official confirmed that there have been attempts to calm tensions and prevent an escalation over the past two days, but the Palestinians decided to continue with their protest.

According to the official, Abbas rejected a request to meet with U.S. special envoy Jason Greenblatt because such meetings fail to offer anything new.

A source involved in the efforts claimed that Greenblat did not actually ask to meet with Abbas but rather met on Tuesday with PLO Executive Committee Secretary Saeb Erekat.

"Abbas is disappointed by the administration's conduct. As of now, Palestinians have made efforts to meet U.S. demands, but as of yesterday, the Americans have not presented anything new," said the official. "In the meeting Greenblat held with Palestinian intelligence head Majid Faraj and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, the two reiterated their positions that the situation at Al-Aqsa must return to the state it was before the terrorist attack on July 14."

Greenblatt, who has been in Israel for the past few days, is holding talks with senior Jordanian, Israeli and Palestinian officials in an attempt to alleviate the tensions and prevent violent clashes after Friday prayers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Tuesday evening with Jordan’s King Abdullah to try and reach an understanding regarding the Mount. It was the second phone call the two held in as many days and it focused on the crisis at the site. On Wednesday, a day after his conversation with Netanyahu, the Jordanian king called Abbas and the two spoke about the tensions in Jerusalem, and specifically the Temple Mount. It is unclear if he passed on any message from Netanyahu.

A senior Palestinian official in Abbas' inner circle told Haaretz that currently things stand as they were and the protest measures will continue, including a large march on Friday. Nonetheless, the official said that Israel and the U.S. are more concerned about the possibility that the Palestinians will turn to the International Criminal Court over the issue.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a security consultation on Wednesday regarding the situation and the fear of escalation. “The main goal at the moment is to find a formula that will prevent violent confrontations after Friday prayers,” said a senior Israeli official who requested to remain anonymous. “We are in contact with both the Jordanians and the Americans.”