Rivlin Discusses Temple Mount Crisis With Turkey's Erdogan, Despite Israeli Foreign Ministry Opposition

Foreign Ministry opposed the Israeli president's call taking place, saying Turkish president shouldn't be involved in de-escalation efforts

Israeli security forces argue with a Palestinian near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, July 17, 2017.
AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS

President Reuven Rivlin spoke on the phone on Thursday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss the Temple Mount crisis.

The President's Residence said that the call took place at Erdogan's request. A senior Israeli official said that the Foreign Ministry opposed to the call taking place, and even passed on a negative assessment of it earlier in the day.

The President's Residence said that during their conversation, Rivlin clarified to his Turkish counterpart that "the terror attack that occurred last Friday at the Temple Mount, a sacred site for all of us, is an unacceptable crossing of a red line that jeopardizes our ability to live together."

Two police officers were killed and another was wounded when three Israeli Arab assailants carried out a shooting attack at the site in Jerusalem's Old City last Friday.

Rivlin reminded Erdogan Israel was quick to condemn attacks that took place in Turkey, and therefore was expecting to hear a similar condemnation from Turkey. "Terror is terror wherever it happens, in Jerusalem, Istanbul or Paris," Rivlin told Erdogan.

The president stressed that Israel is maintaining and will continue to maintain the status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem, his residence said. He also said that the steps taken at the Temple Mount were meant to ensure that such attacks won't change it, and that Israel's foremost responsibility is to protect the lives of citizens at the site.

On Wednesday evening, Erdogan's bureau turned to Rivlin's, saying that the Turkish president was interested in holding a telephone call with his Israeli counterpart in light of the Temple Mount crisis.

Rivlin's diplomatic adviser, David Saranga, turned to the Foreign Ministry and asked for an opinion on whether the call should take place and what messages be conveyed in it. During the consultations, a dispute arose between the President's Residence the Foreign Ministry. Channel 2 News' Udi Segal first reported on the dispute.

The assessment passed on from the Foreign Ministry to Rivlin claimed that it would be wrong to hold the call, so as to not enable Erdogan any position or role in the Temple Mount issue.  A senior Israeli official said that the Foreign Ministry clarified to the President's Residence that Turkey has been inciting Israeli Arabs and Arabs in East Jerusalem for a while. At the beginning of the week, Foreign Ministry Director General even summoned Turkey's ambassador to Israel for a clarification call, during which he demanded that Turkey stop that incitement.

The senior official said that the Foreign Ministry emphasized to the President's Residence that the Turks should not be allowed a foothold in the de-escalation efforts being led by the Americans and the Jordanians.

The President's Residence didn’t accept the Foreign Ministry's position and decided to go ahead with the call. The President's Residence said that "at no point did we receive a diplomatic position according to which the State of Israel does not talk to Turkey because of the latter's support of terror or incitement, as was claimed."

Rivlin "is making great efforts, together with the entire Israeli leadership, to restore quiet and routine security for Israeli citizens," his residence added. "We regret that bodies that are also supposed to be partners in the same task prefer to blacken the face of the president rather than act for the good of the country."

Rivlin's diplomatic adviser had also turned to Jonathan Schachter, the prime minister's diplomatic adviser. The Prime Minister's Office, like the Foreign Ministry, believed that it would be best not to take the call.

Both the Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister's Office didn’t submit a written opinion to the President's Residence, and only verbally relayed their position. A senior Israeli official said that Foreign Ministry senior officials told Rivlin's advisers that it would be best to not to take the call.

The President's Residence, however, clarified that a refusal to hold the call could have further raised tensions and only lead to a greater escalation of the situation. Rivlin's advisers also said that the call's purpose wasn’t to find a solution to the crisis, and that he isn’t taking part in operative steps regarding the Temple Mount.

In the call, Erdogan expressed sorrow about the loss of life in the Temple Mount attack, and asked of Rivlin that Israel remove the metal detectors placed at the site. Rivlin answered that the metal detectors were meant to maintain security at the site following the attack.