White House in Talks With Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians to De-escalate Temple Mount Crisis

Quartet voices concern at escalating violence, condemns terror attack ■ Egypt, France and Sweden call for urgent UN Security Council meeting

Israeli security forces run towards Palestinian protesters during clashes at the Qalandiyah checkpoint, between Ramallah and Jerusalem, on July 21, 2017.
ABBAS MOMANI/AFP

The White House is holding talks with Israel, Jordan, the Palestinians and other entities in the Arab world in an effort to find a solution to the Temple Mount crisis and stop the violence from escalating further, according to Israeli officials and Arab diplomats who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Meanwhile, Egypt, France and Sweden released a statement on Saturday calling for an urgent UN Security Council meeting to discuss the Temple Mount crisis. 

Members of the Middle East Quartet - Russia, the U.S., the EU and the UN – published a joint statement Saturday voicing deep concerned at the "escalating tensions and violent clashes" and urged Jerusalem and Jordan to "work together to uphold the status quo.| The statement also condemned the terror attack in the West Bank settlement of Halamish as well as the death of three Palestinians in clashes in Jerusalem Friday.

Israel's security cabinet is expected to convene on Sunday to discuss the crisis and reconsider whether the controversial metal detectors installed outside the Temple Mount should be removed. The metal detectors, which were put in place after two police officers were shot to death in an attack at the holy site a week ago, have exacerbated tensions. 

The White House has been seriously concerned about the escalation over the last few days, but so far has been approaching the issue through quiet diplomatic channels and avoiding public statements. Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, is handling the talks. Kushner is working on a solution to the crisis alongside the U.S. envoy to the peace process, Jason Greenblatt, the U.S. ambassador in Tel Aviv, David Friedman, and the U.S. consul-general in Jerusalem, Donald Blome.

Over the past week, the Trump administration has been trying to prevent escalation. On Wednesday night, when  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in Hungary at the time, returned to his hotel in Budapest from a Jewish community event, he held a 30-minute conference call with Kushner, Greenblatt and Friedman, during which the four tried to come up with a plan that would reduce tensions.  A source familiar with the contents of the talk who asked to remain anonymous said the White House officials didn't demand that Netanyahu remove the Temple Mount metal detectors, but discussed security arrangements on Temple Mount and how to implement them in effectively.  

A similar conversation was held on Thursday between Kushner and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Kushner urged Abbas to take action toward calming down the situation ahead of the Friday prayers on Temple Mount and discussed ways to prevent escalation. For his part, Abbas told Kushner that the Trump administration must intervene and demand that Israel remove the metal detectors from the entrances to the Temple Mount. The situation is very dangerous and could spin out of control if Israel doesn't reconsider the steps that it has taken at the holy site, the Palestinian president told Kushner.

The disturbances in which three Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces following Friday prayers and Friday evening's attack in the settlement of Halamish in which three Israeli civilians were killed have made efforts by the White House to calm the situation that much more urgent. Abbas' announcement that he was suspending ties with Israel has made these efforts much more complicated.

In a speech that he delivered Friday night after a meeting of the Palestinian leadership, Abbas announced that all ties with Israel would be suspended "until it cancels all of the steps that it has taken against the Al-Aqsa Mosque." Nevertheless, a Palestinian security official has told Haaretz that coordination at the military level with Israel will continue, a statement that Israeli security sources have confirmed.

Alongside the White House efforts, intensive contacts have taken place between Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and the rest of the Arab states to coordinate positions on the Temple Mount. Over the weekend, Abbas called the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Morocco. Meanwhile, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi spoke with his counterparts in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Lebanon, Tunisia and Algeria, as well as PLO Executive Committee Secretary-General Saeb Erekat and Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul-Gheit in an effort to convene an emergency meeting of the League to discuss the Temple Mount. 

A number of Arab and Muslim countries released statements of condemnation over the weekend. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry called on Israel to respect sites that are holy to Muslims and to halt the violence and what it said was the excessive use of force against Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank.  The Jordanian Foreign Ministry released two statements in which it called on Israel to remove the metal detectors and refrain from violating the status quo at the Temple Mount. Similar statements were made by Kuwait, Algeria and even Indonesia.

The most explicit condemnation came on Saturday from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is the current rotating chairman of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Erdogan condemned Israel's failure to remove the metal detectors, which he said led to Friday's Muslim prayers not being held on the Temple Mount for the first time in decades. He accused Israel of using excessive force against Palestinians who came to the Temple Mount on Friday and called for the metal detectors to be removed and for the status quo to be restored.