Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told United States Secretary of State John Kerry and European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in Berlin Thursday that Jordan and the Palestinian Authority must issue a statement making it clear that the status quo on the Temple Mount has not been violated.
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Netanyahu and Kerry met in an effort to find ways to stop the escalation of violence in Israel and the West Bank, and to calm the tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.
“We need to take steps that will take us beyond the rhetoric and the condemnations,” Kerry said at the start of the meeting, which took place about an hour after a stabbing attack by terrorists in Beit Shemesh in which an Israeli was wounded.
A senior official in Kerry’s entourage told reporters that the secretary of state is interested in toning down the Israelis’ and Palestinians’ statements and mutual accusations. Kerry said on Thursday he is “cautiously optimistic” about the proposals he discussed with Netanyahu for calming tensions.
At the conclusion of a four-hour meeting between the two, Kerry said he will need to bring these proposals before Jordan’s King Abdullah and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during his meetings with them this weekend. Kerry said he will clarify with Abbas and Abdullah how each of them views the significance of the status quo on the Temple Mount, in a bid to reach a joint understanding on the issue and calm the situation, the official said.
Netanyahu and Kerry agreed that the incitement must end, tensions must be eased, and calm must be restored, an Israeli official said. Netanyahu also reiterated, according to the source, that Israel is committed to maintaining the status quo on the Temple Mount.
“It is time for the international community to tell President Abbas to stop spreading lies that Israel wants to change the status quo or destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque. We are the ones who maintain the status quo and protect the holy sites in Jerusalem. We defend ourselves like every democracy would do in the face of such terror attacks. To generate hope we need to stop terror and in order to stop terror we need to stop incitement,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu has held telephone conversations and meetings with various world diplomats since Thursday morning about the escalation in the security situation.
U.S. State Department Spokesman John Kirby said that Kerry and Netanyahu discussed a "number of constructive steps" that Israel could take to make it clear it has no intention to alter the status quo on the Temple Mount.
Meanwhile, the Quartet of Middle East peace mediators announced that their foreign ministers will meet in Vienna on Friday to discuss the security situation in Jerusalem and the West Bank. This will be the second meeting of the foreign ministers of the Quartet – the U.S., Russia, the United Nations and European Union – in less than a month. Their last meeting took place late September on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
“The main explosive now is the Temple Mount,” a senior Israeli official said. “It turns the problem into a broader religious issue so the main effort is in this area. We must make it clear to the international community that the status quo is intact and won’t be changed. We repeatedly express our commitment to the status quo and it’s important for the Arab side to speak out and tell the truth – that Israel hasn’t violated the status quo.”
The official said that at all his meetings in the last two days, Netanyahu detailed the way Israel sees the status quo on the Temple Mount and how many Jews and Muslims visited the site in recent years.
“People don’t know the facts – we gave them the facts and figures and explained to them how this crisis came about,” he said. “Netanyahu said that the main problem is the entrance of Palestinian order-disrupters to the mosques in an organized way, and those negative elements must be removed from the Temple Mount.”
The official said Israel isn’t interested in a religious war over the Temple Mount and that the crisis is harming Israel’s open and hidden ties with Arab states.
“We have extensive contacts with the Arab states, but what’s happening now is harming them and some people are even backing down. The Temple Mount issue is much more significant vis-à-vis the Arab states than the Palestinian issue in general,” he said.