Under U.S., Jordanian Pressure, Netanyahu Calls for Restraint on Temple Mount

Prime minister urges Israeli parliamentarians to show 'responsibility and restraint.'

Olivier Fittousi

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Knesset members Saturday to ease tensions over the Temple Mount after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asked him to help lower the temperature in all Jerusalem. The Jordanians have made similar requests.

Tensions rose over the weekend after the shooting of a right-wing activist and the police's killing of the Palestinian man suspected of the crime. After the assassination attempt, Israel closed the Temple Mount to all visitors and worshippers on Thursday, before reopening it.

In a statement Saturday, Netanyahu urged MKs to show “responsibility and restraint” vis-à-vis the Temple Mount, holy to both Jews and Muslims.

On Saturday evening, the prime minister asked Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to work with MKs to resolve the issue. Netanyahu’s call came after Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel harshly criticized Jordan’s rulers on his Facebook page.

Ariel was responding to a Jordanian government spokesman who said Israel’s actions in East Jerusalem and attempts to change the status quo on the Temple Mount put the Jordan-Israel peace agreement at risk. The 20th anniversary of the treaty was marked just a few days ago.  

“I hear that the Jordanians are threatening the peace agreement, and I wonder whether they’ve forgotten the Six-Day War and all the years in which Israel supported King Hussein,” Ariel wrote. “The Temple Mount and Jerusalem are under Israeli sovereignty just as Amman is under complete Jordanian sovereignty, and they should take this to heart.”

Ariel’s remarks join similar statements by MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud) and other lawmakers.

In recent days, senior officials at the royal palace and in the Jordanian government have demanded that Israel act to calm the situation in Jerusalem, especially the Temple Mount.

In a telephone conversation Friday, Kerry asked Netanyahu to work to reduce tensions, stop the escalating violence and maintain the status quo on the Mount.

At a press briefing that day, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Kerry had demanded that Netanyahu eschew provocative statements and actions regarding Jerusalem and preserve the status quo on the Mount.

“I am extremely concerned by escalating tensions across Jerusalem and particularly surrounding the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount,” Kerry said in a statement.

“It is absolutely critical that all sides exercise restraint, refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric, and preserve the historic status quo on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount – in word and in practice. The continued commitment by Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians to preserve the historic status quo at this holy site is critical; any decisions or actions to change it would be both provocative and dangerous.”

Also Friday, Kerry phoned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and asked him to help calm things down in Jerusalem. According to the Palestinian press agency Ma’an, Abbas asked Kerry to intervene to stop Israeli actions, particularly settlement construction, and told Kerry that Israel’s actions were dangerously escalating the violence.

According to Ma’an, Abbas thanked Kerry as well as Jordanian King Abdullah for their efforts “to calm Israeli aggression, including in the Al-Aqsa compound.”

Kerry is scheduled to meet with Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat in Washington on Monday. According to Psaki, the two will address both the situation in Jerusalem and efforts to renew the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

Kerry’s phone call to Netanyahu aimed to straighten things out after derogatory remarks about Netanyahu by senior U.S. officials in The Atlantic. An Israeli official said that in the phone call, Kerry distanced himself from the remarks and said they did not reflect the position of the U.S. administration.