Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister: I Dream of Israeli Flag on Temple Mount

PMO rebukes Hotovely, saying Israel's commitment to the Temple Mount status quo remains unchanged, prompting Hotovely to recast comment as 'personal'.

Ezra Gabay

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) said on Monday that “my dream is to see the Israeli flag flying over the Temple Mount,” and called on the government to allow Jews to go up to the mount and pray there. The deputy foreign minister’s comments, which were disowned by the Prime Minister's Office, came amid diplomatic attempts to quell rising tensions regarding the flashpoint site, which were sparked by Palestinian fears that Israel wanted to change the status quo on the site that is holy to both Jews and Muslims.

“My dream is to see the Israeli flag flying over the Temple Mount,” said Hotovely during a program on the Knesset’s TV channel. "It’s the holiest place for the Jewish people.” In addition, Hotovely reiterated her previously stated position that Jews should be allowed to ascend and pray on the Temple Mount.

The Prime Minister's Office rebuked Hotovely's statement, saying that the Israeli government's police regarding the Temple Mount remained unchanged and was clearly articulated with formal announcement Saturday evening following understandings reached over the weekend with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. In the Saturday announcement, Netanyahu stressed Israel’s commitment to the status quo on the Temple Mount, and confirmed that Israel will continue enforcing the policy on the mount by which “Muslims will pray on the mount, and non-Muslims will visit there.”

Following the Prime Minister's Office response, Hotovely tried play down her comments, saying "my private messages are not government policy, to which I am certainly committed, just as I told Prime Minister Netanyahu when he issued a statement reaffirming there would be no change to the status quo on the Temple Mount."

Beforehand, MK Yoel Hasson (Zionist Camp) called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “fire Hotovely tonight.” “With the consistency and stubbornness of a mule, the messianic deputy foreign minister Hotovely fans the flames of incitement in the entire Middle East,” said Hasson. “At the current time there’s a need to calm tensions and restore relations with the Palestinians, not to add fuel to the fires of conflict in Jerusalem in general and the Temple Mount in particular.”

The deputy foreign minister’s remarks come at a sensitive time. Kerry succeeded over the weekend in reaching initial agreements between the sides in an attempt to restore calm. During a press conference in Amman Kerry said that Netanyahu agreed to the Jordanian proposal to install surveillance cameras on the mount that would operate 24 hours a day. On Monday, Netanyahu said that “Israel has an interest in installing cameras on all parts of the Temple Mount, first in order to dispel claims that Israel is changing the status quo, and second, in order to show from where the provocations are truly coming, and to assist in thwarting them.”

Earlier this month, in light of the wave of violence that has gripped Jerusalem and the West Bank, Netanyahu ordered the Israel Police to bar Jewish Knesset members and ministers from ascending the Temple Mount until further notice. After some government ministers, including Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel and Education Minister Naftali Bennett asked for explanations as to why the prohibitions would be implemented against Jewish ministers and MKs only, the Prime Minister’s Office clarified that all ministers and MKs, Jewish and Arab alike, would be barred from the mount.