U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced Saturday understandings between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians aimed at easing tensions on the Temple Mount and ending weeks of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
At a media briefing in Amman, Kerry said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had agreed to install cameras on the Temple Mount, which operating 24 hours a day would show that Israel was not changing the status quo on the Mount and not targeting mosques there.
Late night on Saturday, Netanyahu's office released an English-language statement reaffirming Israel's commitment to the status quo, and saying that Israel will "continue to enforce its longstanding policy: Muslims pray on the Temple Mount; non-Muslims visit the Temple Mount."
Since the current round of violence erupted last month, Jordan and the Palestinians have said Israel is violating the status quo regarding restrictions on Jewish prayer at the site. Jordan even claimed that Israel had violated the understandings reached in November between Netanyahu and King Abdullah on the matter. Israel has rejected these claims, accusing Jordan’s Waqf Islamic trust of failing to meet its obligations.
In recent weeks Kerry has spoken with Netanyahu, Abdullah and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in an effort to end the violence, marked by Palestinians’ knifing attacks and the Israeli response. On Thursday, Kerry met with Netanyahu in Berlin to discuss steps Israel would take to defuse tensions on the Mount, and on Saturday met with Abbas and Abdullah in Amman.
At a short media briefing after that meeting, Kerry announced the measures that Netanyahu had agreed to, starting with the security cameras.
Kerry said Abdullah had proposed the installation of cameras. “This will provide comprehensive visibility and transparency,” Kerry said. “It could be a game-changer in discouraging anybody from disturbing the sanctity of the holy sites.”
A senior Israeli official said “Israel has an interest in placing cameras on the Temple Mount to refute claims that Israel is changing the status quo. In addition, we want to show that the provocations aren’t coming from the Israeli side.” According to the official, “Israel has reiterated its commitment to maintaining the status quo and expects an increased effort by the Waqf to maintain order inside the mosques.”
Kerry added that Netanyahu had told him that Israel would continue to allow freedom of worship on the Temple Mount and not deviate from the status quo. According to Kerry, Israeli and Jordanian officials would soon meet to discuss strengthening security arrangements at the site.
At the media briefing, Kerry read out four points he said Netanyahu had agreed to:
“One, Israel fully respects the special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, as reflected in their 1994 peace treaty, and the historic role of His Majesty King Abdullah II.
“Second, Israel will continue to enforce its longstanding policy on religious worship, religious worship at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, including the fundamental fact that it is Muslims who pray on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif and non-Muslims who visit.
“Israel has no intention three of dividing the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif and it rejects completely any attempt to suggest otherwise.
“Four, Israel welcomes increased coordination between Israeli authorities and the Jordanian Waqf, including to ensure that visitors and worshipers demonstrate restraint and respect for the sanctity of the area in accordance with their respective responsibilities.
“In fact, they plan to meet soon to strengthen security arrangements on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. That is to say Israeli authorities and Jordanian Waqf and authorities will meet soon in order to strengthen that security relationship.”
Kerry added: “Now, I hope that based on these conversations we can finally put to rest some of the false assumptions, perceptions about the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Those perceptions are stoking the tensions and fueling the violence, and it is important for us to end the provocative rhetoric and to start to change the public narrative that comes out of those false perceptions.”
Kerry stressed that Netanyahu, Abbas and Abdullah had promised to cooperate in restoring calm as quickly as possible. He said Frank Lowenstein, the U.S. envoy to the peace process, would remain in the region over the next several days to finalize the details with Jordan and Israel.
Palestinian leaders expressed skepticism about the understandings. Palestinians, including Fatah leaders, said that while it was important to defuse tensions at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, that issue was not the only factor fueling the Palestinians’ anger in recent weeks. They cited the occupation, settler aggression and the absence of a path toward ending the conflict, which would give young Palestinians hope.
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