Disputes between Israel and Jordan have delayed the installation of cameras on the Temple Mount, more than three months after the sides agreed on the measure to deescalate tensions on the flashpoint religious site, holy to both Jews and Muslims, and stop the deterioration of relations between the two countries.
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Senior Israeli officials and Western diplomats fear that tensions could flare again if the situation is not settled before Passover, which falls in late April.
Last October, after a month of high tension and violent incidents on and around the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in Berlin with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in an attempt to find a formula to restore calm.
Netanyahu mentioned that the Jordanians had previously proposed placing cameras on the Temple Mount to verify that its Muslim sites were not being damaged and that the status quo in the area – called the Haram al-Sharif by Muslims – was being maintained. Netanyahu told Kerry he was interested.
A few days later, after talks in Amman, Kerry announced the deal at a joint press conference with his Jordanian counterpart, Nasser Judeh. As a result of the understandings, tensions between Israel and Jordan eased and the countries resumed contacts after a long hiatus.
In the three months since, there have been negotiations between the Israel Police and Shin Bet security service on one side, and the Waqf religious trust and Jordanian intelligence on the other.
The Palestinian Authority is not a partner to the talks, but is briefed by Jordan and tries to influence them through Jordan. The U.S. administration receives updates from both Jordan and Israel.
The negotiations were largely technical in nature but, given the sensitivity of the site, technical issues quickly became substantive ones.
A senior Israeli official noted that after many disagreements, the talks became bogged down: “Early on, we realized that the story was more complicated than we thought when the idea was raised,” he said.
Despite the fact that most of the disputes were over technical issues, a senior Israeli official noted that the fundamental disagreement was over who would control the cameras.
The three main points of dissent are:
1. Will the cameras broadcast to Israel, Jordan or a website that anyone can access?
2. Will Israel be able to control the broadcast, or pause or edit the transmission? The Jordanians and Palestinians demand that Israel be prohibited from such actions.
3. Where will the cameras be stationed? Israel wants them throughout the Temple Mount, including inside the Muslim holy sites of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock – in part to show that they are used to store weapons or rocks used against Israeli security forces. Jordan and the Palestinians strongly oppose placing cameras in the holy sites.
Senior Israeli officials and Western diplomats have expressed concern that a solution will not be found before Passover, when the number of Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount increases. Shavuot in the late spring and Sukkot in the fall are other Jewish religious holidays when the numbers will rise.
"If we reach that point and there will still not be agreements then all the tensions we saw around the Jewish holidays in September can start again," the official said.
Another round of talks recently took place between Israel and Jordan on the issue that left the negotiating teams with a sense of progress. However, major differences remain that the heads of the negotiating teams have passed on to the national leadership on both sides.