Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely to cancel a briefing for the foreign press scheduled for Thursday at the Jerusalem press club, in wake of the uproar caused by Hotovely’s remarks about the Temple Mount in an interview on Monday with the Knesset television channel.
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A senior Israeli official said that Netanyahu called Hotovely on Monday to talk about what she said in the interview and to clearly convey to her the messages he wants her to stress in her public statements – most notably Israel’s commitment to preserving the status quo on the Temple Mount. Netanyahu also requested that for the time being, Hotovely also inform his office ahead of time about any interview or public appearance of hers, so that the messages can be coordinated.
A spokesperson from Hotovely’s office confirmed that the conversation between Netanyahu and the deputy foreign minister took place, but maintained that the tone was friendly and the call was not intended as a rebuke. “She explained to him what she meant in the interview and the prime minister stressed to her the need to maintain the status quo on the Temple Mount and to avoid any measures or statements that could inflame the situation.”
Hotovely’s office denied that the deputy foreign minister was issued a directive by the prime minister not to grant any interviews without prior approval, but admitted that she was asked to postpone the briefing to the foreign press due to the sensitive situation with the Temple Mount. “We are choosing not to give interviews at this time. We’ll let things calm down,” said a Hotovely spokesperson.
In an interview Monday with the Knesset television channel, Hotovely made statements contradicting the Israeli government’s official stance that it has no intention of changing the status quo on the Temple Mount. “My dream is to see the Israeli flag flying over the Temple Mount,” Hoto vely said. “It’s the holiest place for the Jewish people.” In the interview, Hotovely also repeated said that she favors Jews being permitted to pray on the Temple Mount, which would be counter to the status quo and contradicts the announcement made by the prime minister on Saturday night.
Following the interview, the Prime Minister’s Office hastened to issue a statement disavowing Hotovely’s remarks. “The Israeli government’s policy regarding the Temple Mount was expressed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his statement on Saturday night, and there is no change in it. The prime minister has made clear that he expects all members of the government to act accordingly,” the statement said.
Not long after that, the deputy foreign minister also issued a statement of clarification: “My personal views are not government policy, and I am certainly committed to the government’s policy, as described by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night, when he declared that there would be no change to the status quo on the Temple Mount.”