Israel and Jordan in Talks to Solve Temple Mount Crisis

The effort comes after a meeting was canceled between the compound's Islamic custodian and Jerusalem's police commander meant to avert escalation ahead of Friday's prayer

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Muslims attend Friday prayers inside Bab Al-Rahma in the Golden Gate, Jerusalem's Old City, March 1, 2019.
Muslims attend Friday prayers inside Bab Al-Rahma in the Golden Gate, Jerusalem's Old City, March 1, 2019.Credit: \ AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS

Israel and Jordan failed in a bid Wednesday to settle the three-week-old crisis around a contested building on Jerusalem's Temple Mount, but will keep trying in the run-up to Friday prayers, diplomatic sources told Haaretz.

On Wednesday the head of the Waqf – the Islamic custodian of the Temple Mount – and the Jerusalem police chief had been due to meet to try to avert an escalation ahead of Friday. But the meeting was canceled following threats by extremist Palestinian factions claiming that the Waqf was capitulating to Israel.

>> Explained: Why Jordan and Israel are clashing over the Temple Mount

The building, known as the Bab al-Rahma, is in the Golden Gate on the Mount in Jerusalem's Old City. The building had been shut for 16 years by the Israel Police, but the closure order expired in August. Since the building's reopening by Muslim worshippers, the police have sought to have the structure closed once again to keep out protesters.

In a proposal to Israel on Wednesday, the Jordanians suggested that the building be closed for extensive renovations, which would lower tensions at the site for the length of the work. Both the Waqf and the Jordanians say the ancient building needs renovations.

Israel reportedly agreed to the plan but demanded that the structure be briefly closed before reconstruction so that Israel could assert its sovereignty on the Mount.

Jordan, however, asked that renovations begin immediately, leading to the talks' collapse, though the two sides still plan to seek a compromise before Friday prayers.

Meanwhile, Jewish Temple Mount activists and right-wing politicians assailed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for allegedly yielding to the Waqf.

The head of the National Union party, Bezalel Smotrich, said in a letter that "simply holding negotiations with these outlaws is the same as a dangerous submission to violence. It is unacceptable that the sinner would benefit from his actions and that the one-sided move by the Waqf to invade the compound would bear fruit."

Smotrich said that allowing the Waqf to renovate and use the building was another retreat from "Jewish sovereignty and hold" over the Temple Mount.

Protest during Friday's prayers

The police on Monday arrested the Waqf guards who opened the site, as the guards have done every morning since protesters reopened the building. The police also issued restraining orders against Waqf guards and Palestinian activists including the Waqf's head, Sheikh Abdel-Azeem Salhab, to prevent them from reaching the site.

Statements issued on behalf of the guards urged worshippers to join them in prayer outside the Temple Mount on Friday. A similar protest was held a year and a half ago when the police installed metal detectors at the entrances to the Mount after the killing of two Israeli Druze police officers by Palestinians near the entrance to the compound.

The Jerusalem District Court warned Tuesday that it would order Bab al-Rahma closed unless the Waqf responded within a week to the state's request to shutter it.

The Waqf, however, has refused to appear at Israeli courts for issues pertaining to the Temple Mount, so as not to show recognition of Israeli sovereignty there.

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