U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is seeking to “upgrade and clarify” the understandings reached by Israel and Jordan last year on the Temple Mount status quo, in an effort to quell the current wave of violence, Israeli officials close to the matter said.
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One of the ideas being examined is putting the understandings between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and King Abdullah II in writing.
Kerry told a news conference in Madrid on Monday that in discussions he’d had with Netanyahu and Abdullah, the two expressed a desire to enter a process that would uphold the status quo on the Mount and “make sure everybody understands what that means.”
“We need to have clarity,” said Kerry.
Kerry will meet Netanyahu in Berlin on Thursday and then, on Saturday, he will meet with King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman to try to ratify understandings on the Temple Mount. While in Berlin, Netanyahu will also meet with EU Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini, who is making her own efforts to reduce the violence.
Senior Israeli officials and American diplomats said that in recent weeks Jordan, Israel and the Palestinians have been blaming each other for the alleged violations of the understandings on the Temple Mount reached between Netanyahu and Abdullah last November.
The Jordanians and Palestinians argue that Israel violated the understandings while Israel denies the claim, arguing that the Jordanian Waqf (Islamic trust) hasn’t met its obligations and that the Palestinians have staged provocations on the Temple Mount. The Americans are choosing not to blame any party, but have been calling for restoring or preserving the status quo on the Mount.
One major problem is that the understandings reached last year were never put into writing, nor was there any orderly follow-up to make sure the understandings were implemented. As a result, each side interpreted the understandings as they choose, and numerous disputes resulted. In the end, many of the understandings simply melted away.
A senior Israeli official said one suggestion is to clarify the understandings, put them in writing, and establish a mechanism to allow Jordan, Israel and the Palestinians to resolve disputes and resolve problems as they arise.
During the Madrid news conference, Kerry said he opposed the French proposal to station foreign observers at the holy site, stressing the need for clarifying the status quo. “We are not seeking some new change. We are not seeking outsiders or others to come in,” Kerry said.
French Ambassador to Israel Patrick Maisonnave was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem Monday, where he was reprimanded for the French suggestion that the UN Security Council issue a resolution calling for international observers on the Temple Mount. Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said the conversation with the Maisonnave was harsh, and that both Aviv Shir On, head of the ministry’s European desk, and Aharon Leshno-Yaar, the head of the international organizations department, expressed Israel’s unequivocal opposition to an international presence at the holy site.
“Israel objects to any process that isn’t coordinated with it or is drafted without its participation and affects its vital interests,” the two told the French envoy. Nahshon said Maisonnave replied that his country was examining a number of ideas because of what he called the “continued stalemate in the peace process.”