Right-wing Israeli lawmakers visited the Temple Mount on Sunday for the first time since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu eased restrictions on such visits after a three-year ban. Among the visitors included Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi) and MK Sharren Haskel (Likud).
Netanyahu reportedly told Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein last week that lawmakers can resume visiting the Temple Mount on a regular basis, as long as they don’t do so more than once every three months and coordinate their visits with the police in advance. Lawmakers are forbidden from addressing the public during their visits and cannot be accompanied by the media.
Jewish lawmakers will be permitted to visit during the stipulated visiting hours for Jews, between 7:30-11:00 A.M. on weekdays, and will also be allowed to accompany Jewish groups on their normal routes. Arab lawmakers will be allowed to visit the Temple Mount 30 minutes after Jewish visits, without any further time restriction.
"Due to the desire to leave the Temple Mount outside of the political realm, it won't be permitted to give speeches during visits or to provide interviews to the media during the course of the visit, including at the entrance gates, nor will entry or participation in meetings at the Waqf's Temple Mount offices [be allowed]," a Knesset officer wrote. Lawmakers are also forbidden from accompanying VIP visitors at the Temple Mount, both from Israel and abroad.
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For the past three years, Netanyahu has greatly restricted MKs’ access to the complex, under an agreement Israel reached with Jordan via American mediation. The deal was reached following a wave of Palestinian attacks in Jerusalem in 2014 and 2015, which were spurred by claims that Israel planned to change the status quo at the site.
The restrictions significantly curtailed lawmakers’ visits to the Temple Mount. Over the past two years, MK Yehudah Glick (Likud) has visited three times and MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi) once. All those visits passed quietly.
Netanyahu met in Amman with King Abdullah of Jordan earlier this month, but it is unknown whether they discussed the issue of MKs visiting the Mount.
The past year has also seen an increase in the number of Jewish visitors to the Mount. According to the organization Yeraeh, which promotes such visits, more than 22,000 Jews have visited the Temple Mount since the Rosh Hashanah holiday last September, the highest number since Israel gained control of the site in 1967.